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Alzheimer’s Disease by Connie Maull

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Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia. Dementia is a general term for memory loss and loss of other intellectual and social abilities serious enough to interfere with activities of daily life. Alzheimer’s accounts for 50-80 percent of dementia cases. It is not a typical part of the aging process. It causes brain changes that gradually worsen over time. Brain cells degenerate and die creating a steady decline in memory and mental functions.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Everyone occasionally forgets where they put their glasses or the name of an acquaintance. The person with Alzheimer’s routinely misplaces items or puts them in illogical places. They may forget important events and not remember them later. Eventually, they may forget the name of a spouse or child or, be unable even to recognize them as their spouse or child.
2. Confusion with time or place. They may not know the day or season of the year and be unable to figure it out later. They may become lost in a familiar place.
3. Speaking and writing abilities decline. A person with Alzheimer’s may have trouble finding the correct word to identify an object. A washing machine is “that thing that goes around with clothes and water”. It becomes difficult to express thoughts or take part in a conversation.
4. Thinking and reasoning abilities decline. They no longer can balance a checkbook or pay bills.
5. Judgment and decision-making are impaired. Responding to ordinary tasks such as cooking on the stove or reacting to an unexpected driving situation becomes problematic.
6. Changes in personality and behavior occur due to brain changes. Depression, social withdrawal, aggression, or wandering are common behaviors.

Alzheimer’s Disease damages and kills the nerve cells of the brain. The nerve cells perform the work of the brain. The disease decreases the number of nerve cells and decreases the connections among surviving nerve cells. As more cells die, the brain shrinks and its capacity to perform is severely impaired.

Risk factors related to Alzheimer’s may include increased age. After age 65, the risk doubles about every 5 years. Nearly half of those over age 85 have the disease. The risk increases if a parent or sibling is affected. Genetic connections among families are largely unexplained. Females may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they generally live longer than males. The same factors that put you at risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, or smoking, may also increase the risk of developing this disease. A correlation between lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities may decrease the risk. Using your brain develops more cell-to-cell connections and decreases the impact of Alzheimer-related changes.

Diagnosis consists of physical and neurological exams, mental status, and neuropsychological testing. Lab tests and brain imagery may be used to rule out other causes for memory loss and confusion. Drug therapy may help for a time with memory loss symptoms. Drugs such as Aricept and Exelon boost levels of the cell-to-cell communication chemical that is depleted in the brain.

A safe and supportive environment that provides routine in familiar surroundings is important, as is maintaining the patient’s dignity and self-respect. Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s also need to take care of themselves. There are local organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, within most communities that can provide needed education and resources.

Alzheimer’s Disease Mayoclinic’disease/DS00161’s Assoc.

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