What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive brain disorder that slowly deteriorates one’s memory and cognitive abilities. As the disease takes hold, patients lose the ability to think and reason. These changes can make it hard for friends and families to grasp as the individual shows significant changes in behavior.
During the progression of the disease, individuals living with Alzheimer’s find it difficult and nearly impossible to perform even basic daily tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and taking care of themselves.
What's the cause?
While the medical community has not yet reached a consensus on the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, we have discovered that genetic factors contribute to the development of the disease.
Environmental factors and co-occurring conditions may also play a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s. For example, there is a greater prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals living with Down Syndrome, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and hypertension.
For more in-depth information on Alzheimer’s symptoms and detection, read our Alzheimer’s Awareness guide.
Alzheimer's Can Affect Anyone
Though age is the most prevalent known risk, Alzheimer’s disease can affect anyone at almost any age. Early-onset Alzheimer’s can begin as early as 40 years of age and is common among those with Down Syndrome.
And while the dominant approach suggests keeping one’s mind active and curious will support Alzheimer’s at bay, this is a strategy rather than a cure. We see Alzheimer’s present in highly intelligent and active individuals, and often, the symptoms ebb and flow. One moment they’ll seem to be fine and normal; the next, they won’t recognize their own family or know where they are. Think of a computer that slows down and speeds up. That is often how patients’ brains with Alzheimer’s function. Memories of past events linger while more recent happenings fade quickly.
One example is acclaimed singer Tony Bennett who recently performed his final show. Right after the show, the audience was made aware that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His performance was praised by many as he sang incredibly well. Behind the scenes, his singing partner Lady Gaga expressed emotions and gratitude being that it was the first time Bennett had called her by her name in a very long time.
One positive takeaway of this story is that the neurological pathways associated with those positive memories remained intact when Tony sang. This connection shows the power of positive associations and lifelong passion.
Showing patients pictures of family and past experiences can often trigger awareness in patients, even if only for a short while.
Latest Breakthroughs in Alzheimer's Research
Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the research is ongoing and promising.
Though previous studies pointed to the influence of lifestyle, family history, and certain environmental factors, new research out of Australia indicates one specific aspect as a potential cause. This study found that an excess of “potentially toxic” fat-protein complexes cause damage to tiny blood vessels in the brain, which can leak and cause brain cells to die off.
The recommendations coming out of this indicated that certain medications and dietary changes could reduce the concentration of these fat-protein molecules, thereby reducing risk and potentially slowing down the rate at which Alzheimer’s progresses.
While the findings are promising, this is still just the beginning, and there is still much more research to be done, including human studies.
Alzheimer's Disease and Loved Ones
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis for a loved one can bring out strong feelings of anxiety and worry for families. Dealing with Alzheimer’s can be incredibly challenging during the holiday season.
If you or someone you care about is affected by Alzheimer’s disease, many programs are available to help you learn, cope, and get relief. Alzheimer’s support groups can be exceptionally comforting as you can share your struggles with people who genuinely understand what you’re going through.
Here are a few links to resources and information that may help:
Tips for caregivers to help navigate the journey: https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving
Government programs, legal, and financial help: https://www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers/organizations
National Meals on Wheels programs: https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org
Dementia research and information on clinical trials: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers/dementia-research-and-clinical-trials
If you have any questions about Alzheimer’s disease or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact the Neurology Office for assistance.
A message from Dr. Kandel:
“It is important to remember that Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia. It is essential to rule out all of the additional treatable and reversible causes of memory dysfunction. If there is a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, that is just the beginning of the journey. Establishing a support team is the necessary ﬁrst step in the long-term care of the patient. As I always tell my patient’s family, this is a marathon, not a sprint!”
Feel free to share this with the people in your life who may benefit from this information! For more insights on neurology, check out our weekly tips on our Neurology Office Facebook page.
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Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates
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