More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. If someone you love has or has had Alzheimer’s, then you know how much of a toll this disease can take not only on the person who has it but on their care partner and others around them as well. So, what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease?
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of Dementia among older adults and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that is progressive, meaning over time, it worsens and affects thought, memory, and language. Typically, Alzheimer’s develops in people ages sixty-five and older. Although it is not unheard of for people younger than sixty-five to develop Alzheimer’s, it is far less common. Symptoms may appear as early as age thirty, but changes in the brain can occur before symptoms even begin.
When someone develops Alzheimer’s, harmful changes take place in his or her brain. As neurons are injured and die throughout the brain, connections between networks break down, and regions of the brain shrink. The damage first takes place in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, the parts of the brain that control memory. Eventually, the disease spreads through the cerebral cortex and the rest of the brain.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between forgetfulness and Dementia, so how can you tell when someone is developing Alzheimer’s? Dr. James Lin, geriatrician and president of the LECOM Institute for Successful Aging, says, “Memory changes with age are normal, but when the changes are substantial enough to interfere with someone’s daily life, this may be cause for concern.” For example, someone developing Alzheimer’s might have difficulty completing routine tasks, like driving to familiar places or cooking with old recipes. People with Alzheimer’s may also repeat sentences or questions frequently. They may forget basic words or fail to recognize people they have known for years. Over time, Alzheimer’s can alter a person’s personality and behavior.
Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment
Alzheimer’s is considered a unique disease. Scientists are not quite sure what causes it; unfortunately, there is no cure. With that being said, scientists have made substantial progress in gaining a better understanding of the disease. Scientists know age is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s. They believe genetics may play a role in developing the disease as well. Scientists are also doing research to determine if education, diet, and other environmental factors have any effect on a person’s chance of developing the disease.
There are currently multiple prescription medications approved by the FDA to help manage symptoms and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. It is recommended that patients with Alzheimer’s begin taking these medications in the earliest stages of the disease. People with Alzheimer’s can also take part in clinical trials and studies. Scientists believe keeping your brain healthy and practicing normal healthy behaviors such as not smoking, being physically active, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can help reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest fundraiser for Alzheimer’s care, support, and research (Alzheimer’s Association, 2023). LECOM Health is a proud presenting sponsor of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
The LECOM Institute for Successful Aging is proud to provide memory care at two great facilities: Parkside at North East and Parkside at Glenwood. Our memory care programs are person-centered and emphasize strong resident and family engagement. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia, it may be time to think about memory care. Please call (814) 868-3883 to learn more.