Introduction to the Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease that causes lesions in the brain. Symptoms include memory loss and difficulty accomplishing familiar tasks, as well as mood swings and changes in behaviour. People may be under the misconception that those symptoms are a normal part of aging. It is not. It is also important to see a doctor as soon as one or more of those symptoms appear, as they may be caused by other conditions such as depression, drug interaction or infection.
Alzheimer’s disease is not part of the normal aging process: it is a disease. Discovered in 1906 by neurologist Alois Alzheimer, the disease causes gradual deterioration of the nerve cells of the brain. It mostly affects people who are over 65.
People with the disease exhibit different behaviours as the disease progresses, according to their individual personality, family and social environment, physical and mental health, values and culture. Despite the disease, they retain their unique, distinct character.
People with Alzheimer’s disease eventually lose the ability to think clearly, remember, understand and make decisions. Their functional abilities diminish until they can no longer perform familiar tasks.
There is currently no treatment to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. However, several medications on the market help to reduce memory loss and speech and reasoning difficulties in people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.
The Warning Signs
In general, the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease are slight changes in behaviour that go unnoticed. The following list of symptoms will help you to recognise the early warning signs of the disease:
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function. It’s normal to occasionally forget appointments, colleagues’ names or a friend’s phone number and remember them later. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget things more often and not remember them later, especially things that have happened more recently.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks. Busy people may occasionally be so distracted that they leave the vegetables on the stove and only remember to serve them at the end of a meal. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble with familiar tasks, such as preparing a meal.
- Problems with language. Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget simple words or use substitute words, making her sentences difficult to understand.
- Disorientation of time and place. It’s normal to forget the day of the week or your destination, for a moment. But people with Alzheimer’s disease may become lost on their own street, not knowing how they got there or how to get home.
- Poor or decreased judgment. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may have decreased judgment, for example not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.
- Problems with abstract thinking. From time to time, people may have difficulty with tasks that require abstract thinking, such as balancing a cheque book. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have significant difficulty with such tasks, for example not recognizing what the numbers in the cheque book represent.
- Misplacing things. Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or set of keys. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places.
- Changes in mood and behaviour. Everyone becomes sad or moody now and again. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may experience rapid mood swings, calm one minute and in tears the next, for no apparent reason.
- Personality changes. People’s personalities may change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer’s disease may become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Changes may also include apathy, fearfulness or acting out of character.
- Loss of initiative. It’s normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people quickly regain their initiative. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, and require cues and prompting to become involved.
Often, these changes in behaviour occur gradually and go unnoticed by the person’s loved ones.