What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired.
How common is Alzheimer’s?
1 in 20 Canadians over age 65 is affected by Alzheimer’s disease and more women are affected by the disease than men.
What are the symptoms?
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems with language
- Disorientation of time and place
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Problems with abstract thinking
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Changes in personality
- Loss of initiative
People may think these symptoms are part of normal aging but they aren’t. It is important to see a doctor when you notice any of these symptoms because they might be due to other condition that can mimic Alzheimer’s such as depression, drug interactions, a dietary deficiency of a vitamin or an infection. If you notice problems with memory in you or a family member, don’t jump to conclusions about the cause because there are several possibilities that can explain the symptoms.
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown but researchers believe it is caused by a combination of factors that muck up nerve cells in the brain so they don’t work properly. Current research is focusing on family history and genetics and the internal/external environment.
Researchers have discovered that Alzheimer’s disease is:
- Not a part of normal aging
- Affects both men and women
- More common in people as they age — most people with the disease are over 65
- Not caused by hardening of the arteries
- Not caused by stress
At specialized centers, experts can diagnose Alzheimer’s correctly up to 90 percent of the time.
Experts use several tools to diagnose “probable” Alzheimer’s, including:
- questions about the person’s general health, past medical problems, and ability to carry out daily activities;
- tests to measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language;
- medical tests – such as tests of blood, urine, or spinal fluid; and brain scans.
At present, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications and other approaches that can successfully help with some of the symptoms, slow down and delay the effects and improve quality of life, in some people. The good news is that researchers have made great strides and there are a number of drugs in clinical trials that act directly against the disease process. They’re even testing vaccines against the disease.
Living with Alzheimer’s or a related disease can be challenging. Whether you have the disease or you are caring for someone who does, it is important to take steps to be as healthy as you can be. Research shows that there are many things that you can do to enhance health and quality of life when living with Alzheimer’s disease including:
- Eating healthy, well-balanced diet
- Remaining active
- Staying connected with friends and family
- Keeping your brain active
- Taking charge of your own health
- Reducing your stress
- Finding help
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
When you’re taking care of a loved one, you may forget to take good care of yourself. You are at risk for caregiver burnout. Alzheimer’s is one of the most emotionally draining and traumatic conditions for both the individual and their family. It can be hard on your body and cause a lot of stress. A lot of caregivers have times when they feel tired and overwhelmed. In fact, caregivers themselves have a high risk of depression and other sickness. Those with little or no help from family and friends are at the highest risk.
When you need to, it may be necessary to reach out to others. Family members, friends, and neighbours may want to help. They need you to tell them what kind of help they can give. Try to make specific requests when you can. It may be hard to ask, but getting help when you need it may be beneficial. Your primary care health provider should be part of your support network; they may see signs of depression or illness that you don’t notice. Other health care team providers can also be invaluable for support, information and resources. Peer support groups and societies are available in some communities and help you know you’re not alone and not the only one going through the challenges the disease can bring.
For further information about Alzheimer’s disease contact a community organization or your family doctor to find out about support and resources available in your community.
To be advised at a later date