Alzheimer’s disease affects millions worldwide. It is the most common cause of dementia, a group of conditions that cause cognitive decline and loss of daily function. It also affects memory, thinking, behavior, and, eventually, a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
As people age, their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases. According to a study made in 2019 by the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 6.5 million Americans older than 65 have it. By 2050, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s and dementia will reach 18.8 million unless scientists develop new approaches to prevent or cure it.
Despite being a well-known condition, the causes, progression, and effective treatment of the disease are still a mystery. This lack of understanding can lead to misconceptions and myths about the disease, further complicating care and treatment for those affected.
However, in recent years, awareness and understanding of Alzheimer’s have grown, and ongoing research continues to shed light on the disease’s mechanisms and potential treatments. Thanks to that progress, we will address in this article some of the most frequently asked questions about Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s, and what causes it
Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that causes a decline in cognitive function and daily activities. It is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain, including beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which interfere with the normal functioning of brain cells. As a result, communication between brain cells is disrupted, and eventually, the cells die.
Alzheimer’s disease affects different parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, responsible for memory and learning, and the cortex, which controls thinking, reasoning, and language. The disease progresses slowly over several years, with symptoms worsening over time.
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully known. However, it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Studies have identified several genes associated with the disease, including the APOE gene, linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Environmental factors can increase the risk of developing a disease. These factors include head injuries, exposure to toxins, and chronic stress.
How to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:
- Exercise regularly: Physical activity can improve blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and promote the growth of new brain cells. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Avoid processed foods, saturated fats, and sugary drinks.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Suffering from obesity can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Aim for a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
- Stay mentally and socially active: Keeping your brain busy by learning new things, engaging in stimulating activities, and staying socially connected may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Manage your health conditions: Chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Work with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions and maintain good overall health.
10 critical questions about Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex condition that can raise many questions and concerns for those affected by it. Here are 10 of the most common questions about Alzheimer’s disease:
Are dementia and Alzheimer’s the same?
No, dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same. Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in cognitive function and daily activities. The main difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. However, there are other types of dementia, such as vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.
Is Alzheimer’s a mental illness?
No. A mental illness is typically characterized by symptoms such as persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, or extreme worry and fear, which are commonly seen in conditions like depression or anxiety.
In contrast, Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder with symptoms like memory loss, difficulty with problem-solving, impaired judgment, and changes in personality or behavior.
Is Alzheimer’s inherited from the mother or the father?
Alzheimer’s disease does not have a clear-cut inheritance pattern based on whether it is inherited from the mother or father. While genetics can play a role, most cases occur sporadically without a clear family history.
That being said, there are some rare cases where Alzheimer’s disease appears to be inherited in a dominant manner, meaning that if one parent carries a specific genetic mutation associated with the disease, their child has a 50% chance of inheriting the mutation and developing it as well, but the specific gene mutation and inheritance pattern can vary depending on the individual family.
In some families, the mutation may be inherited from the mother, while in others, it may be inherited from the father.
How young can you get Alzheimer’s?
While Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly diagnosed in people over 65, it can also affect younger people. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is rare and accounts for less than 5% of cases.
What tests are done to diagnose Alzheimer’s?
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and cognitive tests. Imaging tests like MRI or CT scans may also rule out other causes of cognitive decline.
Does exercise prevent Alzheimer’s?
Regular exercise benefits overall health. Even though physical activity alone cannot completely prevent Alzheimer’s disease, incorporating it into your lifestyle may be a helpful strategy. Additionally, exercise has numerous other health benefits, such as improving cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of other chronic diseases.
How fast does Alzheimer’s progress?
The progression of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person. The disease progresses slowly over several years, with symptoms worsening over time.
What are the 7 stages of Alzheimer’s?
Several models are used to describe Alzheimer’s stages. Still, one standard model is the seven-stage model developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg:
- No impairment: This stage is characterized by no cognitive decline or memory problems. Individuals in this stage don’t show signs of Alzheimer’s.
- Very mild decline: This stage is characterized by Alzheimer’s early signs, such as minor memory problems often associated with normal aging. While in this stage, affected people may forget familiar words or names or misplace objects, but these problems are not noticeable to others.
- Mild decline: This stage is characterized by increased memory loss and difficulty with tasks that require planning and organization. Also, patients could have trouble remembering recent events and can experience personality changes.
- Moderate decline: This stage is characterized by significant memory loss and difficulty with daily activities, such as dressing and bathing. Individuals in this stage may also have trouble with speech and language and experience mood swings and behavioral changes.
- Moderately severe decline: This stage is characterized by a further reduction in cognitive function, including difficulty with basic activities of daily living, such as eating and using the bathroom. Patients may also experience confusion, disorientation, and difficulty recognizing familiar faces.
- Severe decline: This stage is characterized by severe cognitive decline and a loss of communication ability. Individuals in this stage may need help with everyday tasks. They may have trouble swallowing and difficulty controlling their bladder and bowels.
- Very severe decline: This final stage is characterized by a complete loss of cognitive function and communication ability. Patients require round-the-clock care and are vulnerable to infections like pneumonia.
It’s important to note that while this model provides a general framework for understanding the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the course of the disease can vary widely from person to person. Additionally, not all individuals with Alzheimer’s disease will progress through all seven stages.
Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?
There is currently no cure. However, there are Alzheimer’s medications and other treatments available that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
How to help someone with Alzheimer’s?
Supporting someone with Alzheimer’s can be challenging, but many strategies can help. These may include creating a safe and supportive environment, establishing routines, and providing social and emotional support. Education and support groups for caregivers can also help manage the challenges of Alzheimer’s care.
Why is it important to know about Alzheimer’s disease
One important reason to know about Alzheimer’s is that it can help increase Alzheimer’s awareness, reduce stigma, and promote education and research. By understanding the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals and communities can work together to advocate for better policies and resources to support those affected.
In addition, knowledge about the disease can help with early detection and diagnosis. By being aware of the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals can seek medical attention and receive an accurate diagnosis earlier in the disease process. This can also help them understand their risk factors and take steps to reduce them.
Finally, knowing about Alzheimer’s disease is also essential for accessing care and support services.
Many resources are available to help individuals and their family members plan for the future and manage the challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. This can include making financial arrangements, considering long-term care options, and accessing potential therapies that may slow the progression of the disease, such as respite care, adult day care, and support groups. By being aware of these resources, families can find the help and support they need to manage the disease and maintain their health and well-being.
Home Health Companions offers in-home companion and caregiver services, private-duty nursing, and aging life care services. Our trained and compassionate professionals can support individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, including assistance with daily activities, medication management, and emotional support. By utilizing our services, families can ensure their loved one receives the care and attention they need in their home.