Currently 5.7 million people in the US suffer from the debilitating cause of dementia and the CDC estimates close to 14 million will be affected by the year 2060.
As we’re surviving other illnesses that could take our lives sooner, such as heart disease and cancer, we as a population are living to an age where brain changes can occur.
Alzheimer’s is the 5th leading cause of death and scientists still struggle to find a cure or means to stave it off.
The average age of symptom revelation is 65, but researchers believe the disease may set in sooner. Over 200,000 currently suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s, or onset before age 65.
I believe nightly oxygen or CPAP therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) might be worth researching as its been postulated that lack of oxygenation can accelerate dementia.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease in which the brain loses function, is most commonly associated with memory loss. As abnormal proteins build up in the brain (beta-amylaoid and tau), the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles within the nerve cell (neuron), disrupt communication between nerve cells, so memory can easily start to falter. Many people affected with Alzheimer’s lose newer memories first and then progressively lose old ones.
However, since the brain is such a dynamic and brilliantly complex organ, a disease that alters its tissue could manifest in a variety of symptoms, beyond memory loss.
These can include:
- Personality changes
- Difficulty completing once simple tasks
- Social withdrawal
- Labile moods
- Misplacing commonly used objects
- Lack of appropriate judgement
- Issues with problem solving
- Lack of understanding spatial and timing concepts
Hence if a family member appears to lose his way driving home, has difficulty dressing himself appropriately, avoids family gatherings, appears to get angry for no apparent reason, or even offers a young baby an object for a much older individual, these may be signs of a dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
Although Caucasians comprise the majority of cases overall, the CDC found among those over 65, African-Americans have the highest rate at nearly 14%, and Hispanics at 12%.
In a recent study, researchers from Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center found four additional symptoms that may be early signs of Alzheimer’s. These include:
- Difficulty with speech, vocabulary pool, process and articulating what one wants to say (aphasia)
- Difficulty writing from a motor and conceptual standpoint
- Difficulty reading, including comprehension
- Displaying exaggerated confidence
The study authors state these signs may be overlooked and could be very telling of one’s early disease progression.
To diagnose Alzheimer’s, the medical provider may employ a variety of testing measures including basic history and physical, blood tests to rule out thyroid and vitamin deficiencies, lumbar puncture, CT Scans to rule out bleeds, masses, or stroke, MRI Brain scans, neuropsychological tests, and amyloid PET scans.
Although currently a cure for Alzheimer’s does not exist, there are many medications being researchered to slow down the progression of the disease and a variety of environmental and behavioral interventions could allow the patient to navigate easier with their challenges.
How to prevent Alzheimer’s remains up for debate, but healthy diet, weight, exercise, and control of one’s blood pressure and blood sugar have been suggested.
The earlier Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, the easier it may be to manage, hence family members need to learn and look out for the above symptoms.