What is Alzheimer’s?
What we understand about Alzheimer’s is that it is a type of aggressive dementia that affects the brain by essentially erasing an individual’s memory bank. This happens over time, as all of the connections in the brain that allow for easy exchange of information, become corroded by plaque and stop functioning.
Alzheimer’s is most prevalent among seniors over the age of 65. However, recently, early-onset cases have been found among younger individuals.
Alzheimer’s is not and should not be considered a natural part of aging.
The Face of Alzheimer’s
One of the earliest faces of Alzheimer’s was the beautiful WWII pin-up, actress Rita Hayworth. Though she was not the first patient, by the time her condition became public, many people in the field of medicine as well as the public had long forgotten the 40-year-old woman first identified with the disease by German physician Alois Alzheimer, back in 1906.
But it was Hayworth who put a public face on the condition and through her daughter’s efforts, lifted the disease from obscurity. Over the course of many years, Hayworth endured frequent misdiagnoses because of her descent into alcoholism. It wasn’t until 1979 that a New York psychiatrist, Ronald Fieve, confirmed that she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. The disease would take her life eight years after her diagnosis.
What should you know about this disease?
Experts say that about 5 million Americans 65 years of age and older have Alzheimer’s. Less than 5% of the population suffers early-onset Alzheimer’s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, while the disease, for the most part remains a mystery, “scientists have pinpointed several rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s. People who inherit these rare genes tend to develop symptoms in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.” This type of Alzheimer’s is known as familial. From studies currently in progress, it is speculated that Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
Scientists are also looking at possible links between Alzheimer’s and other diseases that might act as triggers, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes.
As more people live longer, doctors believe that more people will be diagnosed with the disease. Right now “the number of people with Alzheimer’s doubles at every 5-year interval.”
Alzheimer’s is irreversible. At the moment there is no known way to stop its progress once diagnosed. It is a slow degenerative disease that occurs in three stages – “an early, preclinical state with no symptoms; middle stage of mild cognitive impairment; and a final stage of Alzheimer’s dementia.” It is often called THE LONG GOOD BYE.
What we do know is that “plaques and tangles in the brain are two of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease.” The affects are memory loss and impaired thinking as brain cells begin to die. Patients become forgetful, have difficulty with time, language skills and their ability to recognize even loved ones is diminished.
The disease is often misdiagnosed.
What can you do?
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America wants you to know the early warning signs:
- Memory loss (is the most common sign, an inability to retain any information as it is given).
- Misplacing items and placing things in odd places (car keys in a blender is a good example).
- Difficulty concentrating & planning (inability to do simple things such as following a recipe).
- Getting lost (a visit to the corner store and home becomes a major challenge).
- Difficulty with time (confusing things that happened in the past as having occurred more recently).
- Language problems (inability to remember simple everyday words and difficulty putting sentences together).
- Drastic change in mood and personality (paranoia, distrust, anxiety)
As the disease worsens, individuals might become withdrawn and delusional.
The National Institute on Aging recommends if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, get tested and participate in clinical trials. “Beginning treatment early on in the disease process can help preserve function for some time, even though the underlying disease process cannot be changed.”
Give to research. So much about this disease is still unknown. Dollars toward research can help fast track important new treatment and continue the focus on better understanding the causes.
If you are on prescribed medications for any condition, and you need help affording your prescriptions, download a free Watertree Health Prescription Discount Card or request a card be mailed to you. It provides significant discounts on almost all recommended medications (brand and generic). Most experts agree, taking your medicines as prescribed improves overall health and wellbeing and lowers cost of health care for everyone.
References: Healthline, Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, National Institute on Aging, Mayo Clinic, NIA/NIH
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