Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which refers to a group of brain disorders that cause problems with thinking, reasoning, judgment, and memory. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that usually starts with mild memory loss and can eventually lead to problems severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily activities and independence.
The Global Deterioration Scale (GDS), developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg, breaks down an overview of seven stages of cognitive function in patients with dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
- Stages 1-3 are pre-dementia stages
- Stages 4-7 are dementia stages
- Beginning in stage 5, an individual can no longer survive without assistance
|Stage 1: No cognitive decline||
Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline (age associated memory impairment)
Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline (mild cognitive impairment)
|Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline (mild dementia)||
|Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline (moderate dementia)
Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline (moderately severe dementia)
|Stages 7: Very severe cognitive decline (severe dementia)
What Are Symptoms of Alzheimer's?
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s are usually mild to begin with, and slowly and progressively worsen.
Early symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s disease may include:
- Forgetfulness/memory loss
- Problems with language, such as being unable to find the right words for things
- Repeating questions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with reasoning
- Difficulty with everyday tasks such as paying bills or balancing a checkbook
- Wandering and getting lost in familiar places
- Poor judgment
- Losing things
- Mood and personality changes
- Increased anxiety and/or aggression
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s may include:
- Increased memory loss and confusion
- Episodes of anger or aggression
- Inability to learn new things
- Difficulty with language and problems reading, writing, and working with numbers
- Problems with logical thinking
- Shortened attention span
- Difficulty coping with new situations
- Difficulty performing tasks that require several steps, such as getting dressed
- Inability to recognize family and friends
- Impulsive behaviors
- Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, wandering
- Repeating words or movements, muscle twitches
- Loss of interest in surroundings (apathy)
- Seeing things that aren't there (hallucinations)
- Believing things that aren't true (delusions)
Symptoms of severe Alzheimer’s disease may include:
What Causes Alzheimer's?
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, but late-onset Alzheimer’s is due to a series of brain changes that occur over a long period of time. It is believed a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors may play a role.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease may be caused by a genetic mutation.
Risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease include:
How Is Alzheimer's Diagnosed?
Doctors usually diagnose Alzheimer’s disease based on a patient’s history and symptoms, along with information provided by family members.
Doctors may also perform memory and other cognitive tests to assess the degree of difficulty with different types of problems. These tests can be given again and monitored over time to observe any decline in function.
Other tests that may be indicated to help confirm Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, or to rule out other conditions include:
- Blood tests to check for:
- Chemical or hormonal imbalance
- Vitamin deficiency
- Brain scans
- Usually magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for other problems
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scans can show the abnormal protein deposits in Alzheimer disease, but it is usually only performed for research studies
- Scans may also help identify the type of dementia, based on certain characteristic brain changes
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) can also help identify the type of dementia
What Is the Treatment for Alzheimer's?
There is no single treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and the condition currently cannot be cured.
Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease includes:
- To help maintain mental function in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
- To help maintain mental function in moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease
- Behavioral therapy to manage behavioral problems
- Changing the person's environment (e.g., regular exercise, avoiding triggers that cause sadness, socializing with others, engaging in pleasant activities that a person enjoys)
- To manage depression
- To manage aggression
- Determine what triggers the aggression
- Family members can learn strategies to help lessen triggers and confrontations
- May be treated with therapy or medication, depending on the cause
- To manage sleep problems
- May be treated with medications
- Behavior changes such as
- To manage safety issues, because people with Alzheimer’s disease often fall and hurt themselves
- Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes
- Secure loose rugs or use non-skid backing on rugs
- Hide loose wires or electrical cords
- Maintain well-lit walkways
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