Alzheimer’s is scary, overwhelming, and unpredictable. Watching someone you love struggle with the disease is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. It can feel like there is no hope.
Over 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, and while there still isn’t a cure for the disease, there have been incredible advancements in medicine that make life with Alzheimer’s a bit easier. More research is being done across the world that gives new hope to those facing this terrible condition. We’re going to examine Alzheimer’s as a whole, and what can be done to help stop this disease in its tracks.
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that impacts our memory and thinking skills. Generally, the progression of this disease is gradual, slowly destroying our memory centers, personality, and ability to perform simple tasks. It’s also the most common form of dementia among older adults.
Research shows that people with Alzheimer’s have plaque build-up on their brains, called amyloid plaques, and tangled bundles of fibers, called neurofibrillary tangles. The plaques and tangles found on the brain are the main features of Alzheimer’s, and research surrounding these features is still ongoing.
Alzheimer’s is also defined by the loss of connection between neurons (brain cells), which prevents our brains from being able to transmit messages throughout the body.
The damage in the brain caused by this disease starts in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex which control memory. As the disease progresses, it affects the cerebral cortex which is responsible for language, reasoning, and social behavior. Over time, many areas of the brain can be damaged to varying degrees.
Fortunately, there have been significant advancements to provide better treatments and care for patients.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
While research is still ongoing, the main causes of Alzheimer’s seem to be linked to 3 particular genes. These genes all relate to amyloid-beta production which are protein clusters that produce plaque. Our brain cells can be damaged by this plaque, but researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how this impacts our memory centers.
There are other factors that are believed to have a negative impact on our brains, such as inflammation, vascular risk factors, and certain lifestyle choices. However, there is no evidence to suggest that any of these factors alone can cause Alzheimer’s.
Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s can present in many different ways depending on what stage of the disease a person is in. Some more serious symptoms can show up as the disease progresses, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s when it’s in the early stages.
Catching Alzheimer’s early allows patients the chance to try prevention methods to slow the progression of the disease. The signs and symptoms of the early stages of Alzheimer’s include:
- Memory loss, such as difficulty remembering recent events or conversations
- Difficulty performing basic tasks, such as cooking or bathing
- Struggling to concentrate, especially with abstract concepts like numbers
- Poor judgment & decision-making
- Changes in behavior, such as depression or distrust of others
- Becoming irritable or aggressive, along with frequent mood swings
- Social withdrawal & general apathy toward life
- Wandering & a loss of inhibitions
- Preserved skills, such as retelling stories or dancing
- Delusions, like thinking someone has stolen something
Can You Reverse Alzheimer’s?
Doctors and scientists across the globe are committed to finding ways to slow and stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. There is currently no cure for the disease, nor is there a way to reverse the disease once it’s started.
Practicing healthy habits may help slow the disease down, and potentially prevent Alzheimer’s from developing, which we discuss next. However, there’s promising new research that suggests ryanodine receptors in the brain might be the key to reversing Alzheimer’s.
Healthy Habits for Healthy Brains
More studies suggest that healthy lifestyle choices may prevent, or slow, the progression of Alzheimer’s. These healthy habits help keep your brain functioning properly throughout your life. These habits include:
- Exercising for 30 minutes, 3 to 4 days per week
- Eating a nutrient-rich diet, such as the Mediterranean diet
- Quitting smoking
- Sleeping 7 to 8 hours every night
- Learning new things
- Connecting with others
- Drinking in moderation (1-2 drinks per day max)
Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, we have a few practical tips to help you:
- Take care of yourself first
- Create a schedule & routine to help your loved one stay focused
- Reduce distractions, like turning off the TV when it’s not being used
- Provide simple choices, such as choosing between 2 outfits or activities
- Involve your loved one as much as possible with chores & tasks
If your loved one often forgets or misremembers things, try to avoid correcting them. This can be discouraging for both of you and it ultimately doesn’t help. One of the best things you can do is support them and provide gentle reminders.
Most importantly, you shouldn’t feel guilty for taking breaks or time away to collect yourself. You can only be a great caretaker if you take care of yourself. Make sure you have time for your life, including hobbies, work, seeing friends, and practicing self-care. This will make you a better caretaker.
How Long Can Someone Live with Alzheimer’s?
Depending on the age of the person at the time of their diagnosis, they can generally live for another 3 to 10 years or more. Alzheimer’s doesn’t necessarily equate to a shorter lifespan. Each diagnosis is different, meaning that life expectancy, symptoms, and quality of life can vary by person.
When to See a Doctor
Some signs to watch for in your loved ones include:
- Repeating statements & questions multiple times
- Forgetting conversations, appointments, or events
- Routinely misplacing things in odd spots
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Struggling to find their words
If someone you love seems to be exhibiting signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, talk to them about your concerns and ask them to go with you to see the doctor. Offering your support can make the process feel less overwhelming.
Living with Alzheimer’s
Living with Alzheimer’s can be challenging, but is definitely possible. There are a variety of options available to help people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones cope with the disease and lead fulfilling lives.
If you’re ready to learn about memory care, please contact us today to find the right fit for you and your loved ones.