Alzheimer’s Disease: What It Is & How to Cope

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 5.5 million Americans and is the most common cause of dementia in people 65 years and older. What is this disease? How can you cope if a loved one is diagnosed? Find out the answers to these questions and more below.

Alzheimer's Disease: What It Is & How to Cope

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America defines Alzheimer’s as, “a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.”

Alzheimer’s Disease: What We Know Now

The 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is broken down into 7 stages, or categories, to define a person’s progression.

Stage 1: There are no symptoms. The only way to diagnose the disease at this stage is with a PET scan of the brain.

Stage 2: This stage includes minor symptoms that only a person’s close family members may pick up on. It does not yet affect the person’s ability to work or live independently.

Stage 3: Thinking and reasoning begin to be affected. The person may forget something he just read, or ask the same question over and over again.

Stage 4: The decline in a person’s thinking and reasoning become more marked. The same issues as stage 3 become more apparent, and new issues come into play. These might include forgetting details about himself, as well as the current date, month, or season. Everyday chores such as cooking become more difficult.

Stage 5: The decline during this stage becomes a little bit more severe. The person might forget where he is or what time it is. Basic details such as his address, telephone number, or even what to wear for the day or season are harder to remember.

Stage 6: During this stage, a person might remember faces, but forget names, or mistake people for someone else. He might have delusions, such as thinking he has to be at work, even though he hasn’t worked for years. He might need help doing minor tasks, such as going to the bathroom.

Stage 7: This stage is the most severe. A person usually forgets how to do even basic things, such as eat, sit up, or walk. A patient at this stage needs to be fed, usually soft, easy-to-swallow foods, and reminded to drink.

When a Loved One is Diagnosed

Basic guidelines for communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s include:

  • Have a positive mood
  • Talk clearly and simply
  • Get rid of distractions, like radio or TV, before starting a conversation
  • Ask simple, answerable questions
  • Be patient
  • Respond with a calm, reassuring voice
  • Maintain a good sense of humor

No matter how well prepared you are, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is never easy. Many emotions, such as frustration and grief, come to the surface when caring for a loved one — it’s only natural. Many professionals recommend having a solid support system in place among family members and friends.

If you need more support while going through this difficult adjustment, you can reach out to one of the many Caregiver Support Groups in your area or online.

What Current Research Has Revealed

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but researchers are relentless in their search for a way to cure or slow the progression of the disease. Strides are being made every day in understanding how the disease works, in the hopes of one day finding a cure.

Current research is aimed at beta-amyloid, which is the key component of the plaque that builds up in an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain. Researchers are testing drugs to block the enzymes that create this substance as well as antibodies that might clear it away from the brain.

Researchers also believe that inflammation plays a vital role in the development of Alzheimer’s. They are currently working on a drug called CSP-1103 that will reduce inflammation in the brain.

If you would like to learn more about the current research being done for Alzheimer’s, or how to participate in a clinical trial, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Alzheimer’s disease is difficult, both for the caregiver who watches a loved one fade away and for the victim who slowly loses tiny pieces of themselves to a cruel disease. As research continually pushes forward, we hope that new discoveries will bring a ray of hope to all who are affected by it.

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