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Dementia - Things You Need To Know About Alzheimer's Disease

Updated on September 29, 2010

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease is a form of dementia that was first diagnosed in 1906. This disease is typically diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, though early-onset Alzheimer's can occur much earlier in life.

Unfortunately, for the patient, the disease is incurable and terminal in nature. For this reason, a lot of research is underway, with the hope that we will someday soon find a cure. But first, we must understand the disease and deal with it's symptoms. That will be the focus of this article, as I do my best to hope you understand Alzheimer's disease better

Alzheimer's Disease Is Not All About Forgetting Things

Many of us have seen the comedy skit where the old man is sitting on a park bench, crying into his hands. A younger man sits down beside him ans proceeds to asking if the man is upset about his house, his wife, or his pets, and the older gentleman says that all are great. And so, the younger man asks what could possibly be so wrong - to which the older gentleman replies - "I can't remember where I live!"

And we all laugh, as it's comical to think someone would forget where they live, but what if it actually happened in your life? What if the knowledge you carried with you everyday disappeared - in a puff of smoke? And what if you lost your short term memory as well?

Imagine forgetting what you did five minutes ago. Okay, we can still chuckle at that one - but what if you forget who you are, and everyone around you? Sounds like amnesia, right? Read on, as Alzheimer's goes far beyond forgetfulness. If nothing else, I want to be clear with you that forgetfulness is a symptom of Alzheimer's disease, but only one of many.

Symptoms Of Alzheimer's Disease

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include confusion, mood swings, memory loss, aggression, irritability, and a decline in one's senses. In time, a patient begins to lose their bodily functions which eventually leads to death.

What causes Alzheimer's disease is still not fully understood. In fact, most of what is known about Alzheimer's disease relates to the symptoms and diagnosis - not the causes and progression. As such, one can't avoid Alzheimer's disease any more than they can stop it in its tracks. Once diagnosed, the disease follows it's progression until the end. This is what makes Alzheimer's disease such a frustrating disease, as it currently offers no hope for escape.

What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?

As said earlier, no one truly knows the cause of Alzheimer's disease, though it is thought to be associated with plaques or tangles in the brain. Not knowing the cause makes treatment that much more difficult as doctors can treat the symptoms, but not the disease itself.

The Four Stages Of Alzheimer's Disease

Pre-dementia:  This stage is noted by memory loss. The patient has trouble remembering recently learned facts and is unable to learn new things. As this is seen as normal for older people, this stage is quite often overlooked by the patient and those around them.

Early dementia:  At this stage the patient suffers difficulties with language, perception, and movement. Older memories survive better than newer ones, but all memories begin to degrade over time.At this stage the patient is still mostly independent, but requires some assistance.

Moderate dementia:  The patient become more dependent on caregivers, as they are unable to accomplish basic tasks for themselves. Language deteriorates to a point where the patient can no longer communicate properly, with wandering behaviors, irritability, and uncontrollable  mood swings. This is a difficult time for the caregiver, as the patient often becomes combative and resistant.

Advanced dementia:  The patient is now bedridden and completely dependent on others for their care. Their language ability whittles down to a few words (if any) and they lose the ability to feed themselves.  At this point the disease is near the end of its path, but it isn't the disease itself which finally takes the patient's life. Typically its an infection of pressure ulcers or pneumonia that finally takes the patient's life.

Life Expectancy Of A Patient With Alzheimer's Disease

The life expectancy of a patient with Alzheimer's disease varies widely and can be anywhere from 3 to 15 years. Of course, it's not the lowering of the life expectancy that makes this disease dreadful so much as it is the deteriorating effects it has on the patient's mind.

It's difficult for caregivers to watch these people (formerly so full of life) slowly regress to a mull existence, and as the caregivers are typically family members, this makes this disease all the more devastating.

What Can You Do?

Knowing a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's can make one feel helpless, but there are help groups out there. The Alzheimer's Association is one of the best known, helping families cope with this devastating and debilitating disease.

Knowing how this disease progresses offers the best hope for survival beyond the disease, but in a spiritual sense more than a physical one. By understanding the eventuality of the disease, one can prepare themselves by sharing as many good memories with their loved one until the disease progresses to the point where this is no longer possible. By capturing good memories before things worsen, loved ones can hold onto those memories to work past the many difficult days to come.

As much as I would like to offer hope, the best thing a loved one can possess is knowledge and acceptance. As many other diseases have been defeated over the past century there is always hope that Alzheimer's will someday be beaten as well; but for now it is best for now to accept this disease and enjoy the moments you have left with your loved one.

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