Facts About Alzheimer's Disease from Open Mind and What You Should Know
"Alzheimer's Disease" is the term used to describe a dementing
disorder marked by certain brain changes, regardless of the age
of onset. The disease is not a normal part of aging --
and it is not something that inevitable happens in later life.
Rather, it is one of the dementing disorders, a group of brain
diseases that lead to the loss of mental and physical functions.
The disorder, whole cause is unknown, affects a small but
significant percentage of older people. A very small minority
of alzheimer's patients are under 50 years of age. However, most
are over 65.
Alzheimer's disease is the exception, rather than the rule, in
Only 5 to 6 percent of older people are afflicted by
the disease or a related dementia.
Research indicates that 1 percent of
the population aged 65-75
has severe dementia, increasing to 7
percent of those aged 75-85 and to 25 percent of those 85 or
older. As out population ages and the number of alzheimer's
patients increases, costs of care will rise as well.
Although Alzheimer's disease is not yet curable or reversible,
there are ways to alleviate symptoms and suffering and to assist
families. And not every person with this illness must necessarily
move to a nursing home. Many thousands of patients - - especially
those in the early stages of the disease - - are cared for by their
families in the community. Indeed, one of the most important
aspects of medical management is family education and family support
When, or whether, to transfer a patient to a nursing home
is a decision to be carefully considered by the family.
The onset of the disease is usually very slow and gradual,
seldom occurring before age 65. Over time, however, it follows a
progressively more serious course. Among the symptoms that
typically develop, none is unique to Alzheimer's disease at its
various stages. It is therefore essential for suspicious changes to
be thoroughly evaluated before they become inappropriately or
negligently labeled Alzheimer's disease.
Problems of memory, particularly recent or short-term memory, are
common early in the course of the disease. For example, the
individual may, on repeated occasions, forget to turn off the iron
or may not recall which of the morning's medicines were taken. Mild
personality changes, such as less spontaneity or a sense of apathy
and a tendency to withdraw from social interactions, may occur early
in the illness.
As the disease progresses, problems in abstract
thinking or in intellectual functioning develop. You may notice the
individual beginning to have trouble with figures when working on
bills, with understanding what is being read, or with organizing the
days work. Further disturbances in behavior and appearance may also
be seen at this point, such as agitation, irritability,
quarrelsomeness, and diminishing ability to dress appropriately.
The average course of the disease from the time it is recognized to
death is about 6 to 8 years, but it may range from under 2 years to
over 20 years.
Those who develop the disorder later in life may die
from other illnesses (such as heart disease) before Alzheimer's
disease reaches its final and most serious stage.
The reaction of an individual to the illness and the way he or she
copes with it also varies and may depend on such factors as lifelong
personality patterns and the nature and severity of the stress in
the immediate environment.
As research on the disease continues, scientists are now
describing other abnormal chemical changes associated with the
disease. These include nerve cell degeneration in certain areas of
the brain. Also, defects in certain blood vessels supplying blood
to the brain have been studied as a possible contributing factor.
There is no way at the present time to determine who may get
the disease. The main risk factor for the disease is
increased age. The rates of the disease increase markedly with
advancing age, with 25 percent of people over 85 suffering from
Alzheimer's or other sever dementia.
Other things often noticeable may be depression, severe uneasiness,
and paranoia or delusions that accompany or result from the disease,
but they can often be alleviated by appropriate treatments.
Alzheimer's disease has emerged as one of the great mysteries in
modern day medicine, with a growing number of clues but still no
answers as to its cause. Researchers have come up with a number
of theories about the cause of this disease but so far the mystery
Because of the many other disorders that are often confused with
Alzheimer's disease, a comprehensive clinical evaluation is essential
to arrive at a correct diagnosis of any symptoms that look similar to
those of Alzheimer's disease. In most cases, the family physician can
be consulted about the best way to get the necessary examinations.
Stress on the family can take a toll on both the patient and the
caregiver alike. Caregivers are usually family members - - either
spouses or children - - and usually wives and daughters. As time
passes and the burden mounts, it not only places the mental health
of family caregivers at risk. It also diminishes their ability to
provide care to the diseased patient. Hence, assistance to the
family as a whole must be considered.
As the disease progresses, families experience increasing anxiety
and pain at seeing unsettling changes in a loved one, and they
commonly feel guilt over not being able to do enough. The
prevalence of reactive depression among family members in this
situation is disturbingly high - - caregivers are chronically
stressed and are much more likely to suffer from depression than
the average person. If caregivers have been forced to retire from
positions outside the home. They feel progressively more isolated
and no longer productive members of society.
The likelihood, intensity, and duration of depression among
caregivers can all be lowered through available interventions.
For example, to the extent that family members can offer emotional
support to each other and perhaps seek professional consultation,
they will be better prepared to help their loved one manage the
illness and to recognize the limits of what they themselves can
Though the disease cannot at present be cured, reversed,
or stopped in its progression, much can be done to help both the
patient and the family live through the course of the illness with
greater dignity and less discomfort. Toward this goal, appropriate
clinical interventions and community services should be vigorously
While Alzheimer's disease remains a mystery, with its cause and
cure not yet found, there is considerable excitement and hope
about new findings that are unfolding in numerous research settings.
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