What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease, which was first recognized and described in 1906 by researcher Alois Alzheimer, is the most common cause of dementia, and is highly prevalent in seniors. It’s a progressive brain disease that initially manifests itself as minor cognitive problems such as forgetfulness. Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can include:

  • irritability
  • aggression
  • confusion
  • mood swings
  • speech trouble

The minor cognitive problems that mark the early stages of the illness gradually become major cognitive problems during its mid-stages. In its late stages, patients lose their ability to perform key functions such as:

  • swallowing
  • walking
  • eating
  • recognize their loved ones
  • controlling bladder and bowels

Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia, but there are others. Related dementias such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia, have similar symptoms, trajectories, and outcomes.

It’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s is hard on family caregivers too. They often pay a high toll for their labor of love, reporting high levels of stress and sadness, and also increased health problems.

An Alzheimer’s Diagnosis is Not the End

Seniors who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other progressive dementias  typically live four to eight more years, although some people have lived for two decades or more with Alzheimer’s. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there isn’t any reason patients with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s should not enjoy a decent quality of life.

With the support of loving relatives, hardworking caregivers, competent physicians, and professional senior care providers, people with Alzheimer’s have the opportunity to enjoy many years of good living with their family and loved ones.

Alzheimer’s is managed with medicines as well as non-chemical approaches such as music therapy and reminiscence therapy.  There are currently five FDA approved drugs that may slow the course of the illness. Physicians also prescribe other medicines to alleviate unpleasant symptoms and make the lives of patients and caregivers easier. More drugs are in the trial stage, some with very promising early results.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care

When Alzheimer’s is highly advanced, informal care by family caregivers is usually not sufficient. Alzheimer’s patients will usually eventually require dedicated memory care at an assisted living facility or nursing home with a memory care unit. These special care units aim to make Alzheimer’s sufferers as comfortable and content as possible while also keeping the residents safe from hazard such as wandering.

Memory care units for Alzheimer’s patients are often purpose-built to be warm and inviting. They frequently feature circular hallways so that residents can’t get lost. The staff is specially trained to effectively interact and care for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. Even activities, dining programs, and enrichment opportunities are tailor made to be appropriate for people with Alzheimer’s or similar kinds of dementia.

Senior care referral services such as A Place for Mom can help families of Alzheimer’s patients identify care options that may be a good match for their family.

A Cure for Alzheimer’s

The Obama administration has set an ambitious goal of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s by 2030, and dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to the task. Because the cost of Alzheimer’s is already so high, money spent on research is minuscule compared to the savings that would be realized if new and more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s are discovered.

Researchers working for universities, private companies, and governments across the world are also working at a frenetic pace to make Alzheimer’s a disease of the past. They’re investigating new drugs as well as reexamining old ones. For instance, researchers are now examining whether a long-known molecule found in the common plant Jimson weed may have value as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. Researchers are also working to find better ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. It’s quite likely that if new treatments are to work, patients will need to be diagnosed as early as possible.

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