Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia – a term for serious memory loss – that causes problems with thinking, reasoning, performing familiar tasks and which changes personality and behavior. It results from the progressive loss of brain cells and worsens over time.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care in diagnosing and managing Alzheimer’s disease. Our 24/7 inpatient neurology and neurosurgery services, as well as our outpatient and Home Health physical, occupational, cognitive and speech therapy services are available to help treat people with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, we have the region’s only advanced 3Tesla, MRI, MRI spectroscopy and functional MRI technology to accurately diagnose all manner of neurologic disease, including Alzheimer’s.
You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease usually start subtly and may not be noticeable. These include:
- Memory loss. Everyone has lapses in memory. But memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s makes it difficult for a person to remember how to do normal tasks.
- Loss of language skill. A person with Alzheimer’s may regularly forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making communication difficult.
- Disorientation. People with Alzheimer’s can easily get lost in familiar surroundings, not remember how they got someplace and not know how to get home.
- Impaired judgement. Alzheimer’s can make it difficult for people to make sound judgments, including how to dress, eat or place items in inappropriate places.
- Rapid mood swings. It is not uncommon for people with Alzheimer’s to experience rapid mood swings and changes in normal behavior.
- Lack of involvement. Alzheimer’s makes it difficult to understand normal social cues, resulting in a person who is normally social to become passive and uninterested.
- Difficulty problem solving. People with Alzheimer’s find it difficult to concentrate or plan, and often can’t finish task they had previously been able to manage.
When Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed early, education and management strategies can help people maximize function and maintain independence much longer than when the disease is diagnosed late. To determine if someone has Alzheimer’s, we use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Blood test: To rule out other possible causes for memory loss.
Cerebrospinal fluid test: In special circumstances such as rapidly progressive dementia or very young onset dementia, a cerebrospinal fluid examination may be performed. During this test, the spine is numbed and a thin needle is injected to collect a small sample of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid can be tested for a variety of conditions linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Interviews with friends and family: These interviews help the physician identify details about your health and behavior that are different from your former level of function.
Metal status test: During this test, the physician will ask simple questions to understand a patient’s thinking and memory skills.
Physical exam: A check-up for reflexes, coordination, balance, sight and hearing.
Sometimes special brain imaging tests are done to help rule out other causes for memory impairment, such as stroke, a tumor or bleeding in the brain. Those tests can include:
CT scan: X-rays and computers are used to create images of the brain. This provides a more detailed picture than an ultrasound.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce detailed pictures of the brain.
Positron emission tomography (PET): During a PET scan, a small amount of radioactive material is injected, given to swallow or inhale. This material accumulates in the brain and will emit signals that can be detected by a special camera or imaging device. This device produces detailed pictures of brain activity.
While there is no specific cause of Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that can affect the brain over time. Some of the same factors that put you at risk for heart disease may also increase your chances that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s. These include:
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet
- Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes
Risk factors that could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease include:
Age: Risk for Alzheimer’s increases greatly after age 65, doubling every decade after age 60.
Being female: Women seem to be more likely than are men to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Down syndrome: Many people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer's disease, with symptoms developing 10 to 20 years earlier than in the general population.
Family history and genetics: Your risk of Alzheimer’s is higher if a parent or sibling has the disease.
Past head trauma: People who've had a severe head trauma seem to have a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.
While some risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease:
Practice good habits: Watch what you eat and exercise daily.
Take your medications as prescribed: If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, be certain to take your prescribed medications as directed.
Practice good health: Use alcohol in moderation and avoid smoking tobacco and using illicit drugs.
Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions. While there is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s, medication can slow the progress of the disease, especially when the disease is diagnosed early.
Treatment and Recovery
Although current Alzheimer's treatments cannot stop Alzheimer's from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life. Medications can help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in order to:
- Slow memory loss
- Alleviate depression and worry
- Help with sleeplessness
In addition, physical, occupational, cognitive and speech therapy can help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and maintain function and quality of life.
Alzheimer’s disease can present complications to people with the disease. These include:
Inability to communicate needs: Memory and language loss, impaired judgment, and other cognitive changes caused by Alzheimer's make it difficult for a person to communicate when feeling pain, report symptoms of other illnesses, follow a prescribed treatment plan or notice or describe medication side effects.
Swallowing difficulty: In later stages of Alzheimer’s swallowing problems can lead to problems with eating, malnutrition, dehydration and choking. Patients are also at risk for aspiration pneumonia, caused by inhaling food or liquid into the lungs.
Problems with balance: Because Alzheimer’s affects balance, falls are more likely, which can lead to serious injury.
Bowel and bladder control: Bowel and bladder incontinence is a symptom of later stage Alzheimer’s.
Pressure sores: People with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty moving and changing position in a bed or chair, which can contribute to pressure ulcers or bed sores.
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