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Symptoms and Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease

Updated on February 1, 2016

Alzheimer's also called Senile Dementia or Old Timers Disease can onset so gradually, it can be hard to recognize.

One of the main causes of dementia and of growing concern for our aging population is the onset of Alzheimer's Disease, a brain disease that afflicts 5 million Americans and over 24 million worldwide. It primarily affects people over the age of 65, but earlier onset is not unheard of. It is a progressive disease and eventually fatal.

While the exact symptoms and rate of onset can differ greatly, there are some signs that can help in early diagnosis and treatment. There is presently no cure for the disease but there are treatments that can slow and help manage the symptoms. Early diagnosis not only provides early treatment but also gives the family time to plan for the future and manage care for their loved one.

Early Signs

Onset of the disease can be so gradual that they go unnoticed by family members who think that little lapses in memory are normal for an elderly person. Gradually though, the memory loss will become more pronounced, especially for recently learned information and the person will have trouble remembering names or how to do simple tasks such as writing a check, making a phone call or the steps necessary to prepare a simple meal.

They may have trouble with disorientation of time and place and may go on a simple trip to the grocery store and forget how to get home. They may have mood swings, sudden fits of anger and changes to their personality. Their judgment will slowly deteriorate and they will have trouble with complex mental tasks. They also may lose their desire for activity and just sit in front of the TV for hours or sleep more than normal. As these symptoms display themselves, it is important to take them in for a checkup and have the doctor give them a thorough examination looking for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Progression

The progression from the early to advanced stages can take anywhere from 5 to 20 years and the disease can plateau for a period at any given stage where it seems like the patient is doing well and holding their own but then they will go through a period of noticeable decline.

As the disease progresses, the memory lapses will get worse. They will forget the names of close family members. They may forget their own address or phone number or become confused about where they are, the time, date or season of the year.

Eventually, the afflicted person will lose their capacity to care for themselves entirely and will need full time care. They won’t be able to dress themselves and will need help with tasks such as eating and going to the bathroom. They may develop compulsive behaviors such as continuous hand wringing or tissue shredding.

As the disease reaches the final stages they will lose the ability to walk and talk normally and will start to lose control of their muscles, reflexes and bodily functions. Swallowing will become difficult which will impair their ability to eat and drink.

Prevention and Treatment

There are many factors that play into ones susceptibility to Alzheimer’s Disease including age, family history and heredity but more studies also show that general health is a factor as well.

There are several medications available today to help manage symptoms including donepezil, rivastigimine, memantine, galantamine and tacrine.

There are also unconventional treatments being tried such as herbs and vitamins including vitamin E, Ginkgo biloba, Coenzyme Q10, Coral calcium, Omega 3 fatty acids and others. They are unproven however.

Maintaining ones general health can be helpful not only as prevention but also as a treatment and includes keeping weight in check, not smoking or drinking alcohol excessively and keeping physically fit both in body and mind through regular exercise and social interaction.

A healthy heart and body will keep your brain nourished and challenging your mind will keep it working at its peak efficiency for as long as possible and may fend off this disease altogether. A healthier lifestyle sure can’t hurt.

Update on prevention and treatment

There has been evidence uncovered that certain B vitamins can have an effect on the onset of Alzheimer's. Research from Britain's Oxford University showed that seniors who took a combination of three B vitamins for two years did 70 percent better on memory tests than those who took a placebo. It seems that these B vitamins can reduce the level of homocysteine, which is an amino acid that increases with age and is one of the things that causes Alzheimer's.

Here is a link to the story if you want to read more about it: http://www.newsmaxhealth.com/headline_health/vitamin_pill_wards/2011/09/14/407148.htm

This could be a huge help in treating this disease. It certainly couldn't hurt to give vitamins to Alzheimer's patients or anyone at risk for the disease. It's more evidence that diet alone can have a huge impact on one's health.

You can help

There are several organizations doing research into prevention and treatment of this disease. If you would like to help, you can go to http://www.alz.org/join_the_cause_donate.asp

or if you prefer, Johns Hopkins University at http://www.alzresearch.org/giving.cfm

Please feel free to comment, especially if you have had any direct experience with friends or family and this terrible disease.

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    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 8 years ago

      A lot of useful information. Thank you for sharing.

    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 8 years ago

      I would like to invite you to join the mental health awareness group with this lens. I am revamping it some and one of the new rules will be to allow contact from your profile page. If you would like to do join and will enable the contact feature than I would be thrilled to have your lens a part of the group.

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    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Very well done. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers at 56 years of age back in the 70's. It was so hard to find any information about this dreaded disease back then and I am so thankful that more is being done in research and in public awareness. Thank you.

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