Memory is powerful. As beings with limited time, every moment is precious, and storing the moments that have filled up our years is a gift and a treasure. For those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, the confusion and pain that accompanies a loss of memory are frightening and disorienting. For those left watching a parent or family member begin to slowly disassociate from the life they knew—the life that they can no longer remember—the experience is equally terrifying and devastating. The world recognizes every September as Alzheimer’s month. It is a time to bring awareness to this devastating disease and hope that one day, we might find a cure. If you suspect that a parent, spouse, or loved one in your life might be starting to experience the signs of Alzheimer’s talk to a doctor and ask for help.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive condition that destroys memory and other critical mental functions when brain cell connections and their accompanying cells breakdown and die. In Alzheimer’s patients, high levels of specific proteins that exist inside and outside of brain cells become weak or damaged. Often, the first brain cells to be affected are those in the hippocampus, the brain’s center of learning and memory.
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
As two conditions that are often spoken about in tandem, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, though similar, are not the same condition. Dementia is a general term for symptoms associated with the decline in memory, reasoning, and other critical processing skills. Alzheimer’ is a specific brain disease that causes about 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. In addition to Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia may be caused by damage to brain cells. Depending on the area of the brain in which cells have been damaged, the resulting symptoms may vary.
Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia in which damage to the vessels that supply blood to the brain, cause problem-solving, slowed thinking, focus, and organization issues. Lewy body dementia is marked by abnormal, balloon-like clumps of protein that appear in the brain, causing a patient to act out their dreams in their sleep, experience visual hallucinations, and have attention and focus problems.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
For Alzheimer’s Disease, specifically, some of the most common early symptoms may include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily responsibilities
- Difficulty solving problems
- Struggling to find the right word
- Misplacing belongings or not remembering where one left an item and further, not remembering the last time the item was in their possession
- Challenges in completing everyday tasks
- Confusion related to time and place, losing track of days, seasons, and minutes in the day
- Difficulty assessing visual images and spatial relationships, which may cause balance issues, trouble reading, or challenges judging distance, which can make driving difficult if not impossible
- Decreased problem-solving skills or judgment
- Social reticence, difficulty having conversations, and ultimately withdrawing from social situations
- Personality or mood changes, specifically in which one becomes confused, depressed, anxious, or scared
When and How to Get Help with a Loved One Experiencing Early Signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
If you believe that someone in your life might be experiencing the symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, talk to a doctor. An early diagnosis can ensure you have the support you need as a caregiver to help protect your loved one and keep them safe and comfortable as their condition progresses. While a doctor might prescribe the patient medication to help treat the symptoms of their disease, the primary symptoms of Alzheimer’s—particularly confusion and memory loss—will progress over time. By ensuring that both you and your loved one have the support you need, you can maximize your quality time together so that you will always have warm, wonderful memories on which to reflect.