World Alzheimer’s Month

Emily B., B.S. Health Promotion and Wellness, Lifestyle Consultant

Most of us know someone in our lives that have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. It could be someone in your family, a family friend, neighbor, community member or someone you were close to. The month of September is known as World Alzheimer’s month with September 21st being World Alzheimer’s Day. Many people still wrongly believe that dementia is normal aging. This alone shows how important increasing public knowledge around this disease is.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die3. The neurons in the brain that are damaged first are in the parts of the brain responsible for memory, language and thinking. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia – a continuous decline in thinking behavioral and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently3. More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s currently and by 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million (alz.org). Alzheimer’s is not just memory loss; it is usually fatal. 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined (alz.org).

How Does Alzheimer’s Affect the Brain?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a healthy brain has about 100 billion neurons with long, branching extensions that allow individual neurons to form connections with other neurons. Information flows through these neurons to create the cellular basis of memories, thoughts, sensations, emotions, movements, and skills2. Alzheimer’s disease disrupts the communication between neurons which results in loss of function and cell death. This happens when protein plaques cluster together and tau proteins tangle together1. The result is a toxic effect on neurons and disruption of the signal transport system1. Eventually, neurons die, and the brain shrinks significantly. Over time, Alzheimer’s has such an affect on a person they are unable to live and function independently.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will vary from person to person. The list below includes the most common signs and symptoms seen from an individual with Alzheimer’s.

  • Memory: One of the most common signs of early Alzheimer’s is memory loss which can include difficulty remembering recent events or conversations (repeating statements, forgetting conversations/appointments, misplacing possessions). As the disease progresses, memory impairments worsen, and other symptoms develop (getting lost, forgetting family member’s names, have trouble finding words to identify things).
  • Thinking and reasoning: Intellectual concepts such as numbers become more difficult so it will be challenging for a person with Alzheimer’s to manage their finances and pay bills.
  • Decision making: Alzheimer’s causes a decrease in the ability to make reasonable decisions and judgements in everyday situations. For example, it may be more challenging to react to daily problems such as food burning on the stove or unexpected occurrences.
  • Performing familiar tasks: Routine activities that require in-order steps becomes a struggle as the disease progresses such as cooking or bathing.
  • Changes in personality and behavior: Because of the changing occurring in their brain, moods and behaviors can be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these include depression, mood swings, social withdrawal, irritability, confusion, delusions, or being suspicious.

Treatment of Alzheimer’s

Just like many other diseases, Alzheimer’s will not have a one size fits all as far as treatments. It is likely that there is a need for many options that include both drug and nondrug therapies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved six drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease2. These medications temporarily treat Alzheimer’s symptoms but do not change the underlying brain changes or alter the course of the disease2. There are also non-medication treatments for Alzheimer’s which are treatments that involve cognitive stimulation. These treatments are used with the goal of reducing behavioral symptoms sch as depression, apathy, wandering, sleep disturbances, agitation, and aggression2. There are many preventative measures one can take. Learn more from our Cognitive Health Series resources:

Currently, there is no treatment that cures Alzheimer’s disease but there are ways we can help a loved one and support them through this. Having a daily routine to keep structure, keeping things straightforward while speaking, keeping their environment simple, provide daily activities, and be reassuring just to name a few. These strategies will help your loved one with Alzheimer’s live a more fulfilling life.

Support for Families and Caregivers

The demands of day-to-day care can be difficult and have physical, emotional, and financial costs. It is important for caregivers to take care of themselves, too! Good coping skills, a strong support network, support groups, and respite care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be a critical lifeline for caregivers. Below are some great resources for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s:

Alzheimer’s Events

Minnesota

Wisconsin

 

 

 

References:

  1. “Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet.” National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet#symptoms.
  2. 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. https://www.alz.org/media/Documents/alzheimers-facts-and-figures.pdf.
  3. “Alzheimer’s Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Feb. 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447.