Dementia is a broad term for memory loss and other cognitive issues, such as issues with language and problem-solving, that can interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one type of dementia. More than 6.2 million Americans are currently living with AD, reports the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. More than 747,000 Canadians are living with AD or another dementia, and worldwide 44 million people are living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
AD is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain, known as neurons, that are essential to thinking, walking, talking, and all human activity. Researchers say that the first noticeable symptoms tend to be memory, language, and thinking problems. However, the brain changes that cause the symptoms are believed to begin 20 years or more before the appearance of symptoms.
Once AD sets in, it is a progressive disorder. There is no cure, and cognitive issues will only get worse as time goes on. At some point, around-the-clock care may be required, and patients with AD may need to enter a memory care facility because their needs may exceed the abilities of caregivers.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America notes there are three stages of AD, mild, moderate, and late, and each stage produces unique symptoms.
- Forget words or misplace objects
- Forget something they just read
- Ask the same question over and over
- Have increasing trouble making plans or organizing
- Fail to remember names when meeting new people
- Increased memory loss and confusion
- Problems recognizing family and friends
- Continuously repeating stories
- Decreased ability to perform complex tasks or handle personal finances
- Lack of concern for hygiene and appearance
- Require assistance in choosing proper clothing to wear for day, season, or occasion
- Recognize faces but forget names
- Mistake a person for someone else
- Delusions may set in
- Strong need for holding something close for tactile simulation or companionship
- Basic abilities fade during this period. Individuals will need help with all basic activities of daily living.
People may wonder why AD is eventually fatal when it seemingly only affects cognition. Although cognitive issues that result in memory impairment are not necessarily life-threatening, the disease can also have physical affects. The most common cause of death among Alzheimer’s patients is aspiration pneumonia. That happens when, due to difficulty in swallowing, an individual inhales food particles, liquid, or even gastric fluids inadvertently, says UCLA Health.
Alzheimer’s disease is a serious condition that affects millions of people. It’s important to discuss warning signs with doctors and get the facts about this form of dementia as early as possible.