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Alzheimer’s Disease: What You Need to Know

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There are 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal brain disorder that is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States[1]. A form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease impairs cognitive abilities until it severely interferes with daily life. While this disease cannot be stopped or reversed, recognizing it in its earliest stages can help families and diagnosed individuals prepare for the future.

History

In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered brain changes in a patient who passed away from mental illness characterized by signs of confusion, memory loss, and unpredictable behavior. These brain changes included considerable neurofibrillary tangles around nerve cells[2]. In 1910, the disease was first named by Dr. Alzheimer’s colleague, psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, in the 8th edition of his book, Psychiatrie, but it wasn’t recognized as the leading cause of dementia until 1976. In 1994, President Ronald Reagan announced that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors

Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a variety of factors. Age is thought to be the biggest risk factor, affecting 32% of people over age 85 [3]. Gender and ethnicity both have an impact on risk factors, as 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, while African Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop it. Family history may also play a role, especially if a parent or sibling has been diagnosed. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol and diabetes, can also pose an elevated risk for the development of Alzheimer’s [4].

Diagnosis

Because there are differences between Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, the processes of diagnosis may take several weeks. This diagnosis usually requires a group of doctors to evaluate the patient’s family and psychiatric history, in addition to conducting blood tests to rule out other conditions. Cognitive tests examine language, memory, and problem-solving skills, and can determine abilities that are still available to the patient, like driving and managing money. Testing also includes family member interviews, brain imaging exams, and checking for vitamin deficiencies[5].

Disease Progression

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a person may experience frequent memory lapses, like trouble remembering names, loss of reading comprehension, and forgetting important dates or events. During this time, friends and family members may notice changes as well. As the disease progresses, nerve damage results in the patient exhibiting more pronounced changes like increasing suspicion of others, easy agitation, forgetting their personal history, wandering, losing track of time, and needing assistance to use the bathroom. During the final and most severe stage of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals lose essential functions, including the ability to swallow, walk, and carry on a conversation.

Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Because Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, caregivers focus on keeping the patient comfortable for as long as possible. While this may include the use of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications, creating a safe environment is among the most important aspects of the treatment plan. This includes installing handrails in bathrooms and stairways, removing clutter, and keeping photographs of loved ones in view. Reducing the number of mirrors in the home is also helpful, as Alzheimer’s patients are often confused or even startled by them. Exercise is also important in helping those with Alzheimer’s sleep better, and maintains joint and heart health. Walking, riding a stationary bike, and chair exercises are all options for someone with Alzheimer’s, depending on their stage of the disease. A doctor will provide guidance on what exercises are safe, and if they can be done alone or with the aid of a caregiver.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing the first stages of Alzheimer’s disease, do not hesitate to contact your primary care physician.

Resources for Alzheimer’s Disease Patients and Caregivers

Sources

  1. “2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures”: http://www.alz.org/facts/
  2. “Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet”: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet
  3. “2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” (Full Report): http://www.alz.org/documents_custom/2017-facts-and-figures.pdf
  4. “Cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease: common links”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16918818
  5. “2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” (Full Report): http://www.alz.org/documents_custom/2017-facts-and-figures.pdf

Reprinted with permission from - Healthy Perspectives by Puritan's Pride - by Melissa Chichester

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Charlotte

I just placed my husband of 47 years in memory care the day after he turned 71, 10 1/2 years after diagnosis. His dad died after 20+ years, his younger sister died after 9 years. Yes, this is a horrid disease – we need to find causes and cures. I know there are always articles being published about suspected causes or what will help based on testing in mice. People are not mice. As we have found out in so many drug trials, what works for mice does not work for humans. For years I read all the articles on vitamin, mineral, herbs, foods, etc. that would help but none helped,, so there is no lack of trying to find something that would help. He was on galantamine for 6 years. When I took him off 4 years ago there was no change so if it had helped him stay… Read more »

Phyllis Poole

Bad memory is the indication of niacin deficiency a B vitamin but you must take all the Bs because they work together.
The best advise on nutrition is an Adelle Davis book Lets Eat Right To Keep Fit. She has others and has a site dedicated to her as she passed on many years ago. Find her on the web Her books can stil be purchased but
are all used as they are no longer printed. They should be as there is much needed info
I feel most if not all physical problems are from malnutrition. Drugs are the cause of many problems and following what research has come up with is asking for many more!

Enola C.

My biggest fear

the impossible quiz

Thank you for sharing this useful information, I will regularly follow your blog
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J Randall Short

I disagree that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be stopped or reversed. Dr. Dale Bredesen has been a career long neuroscience researcher including being the director of the Alzheimer’s research center at UCLA. He has been stopping cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients. Here is a video from 2016 explaining some of his protocol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D5aA_-3Ip8. J. Randall Short DC

roger rohe

I believe some of the problem starts with aluminum – pots & pans, coffee pots, shots for flu, etc. which use aluminum, formaldehyde & or mercury to cause a reaction. Non stick pans with PFAs. Round-up pesticides with glyphosate (proven cancer causer in Calif.). GMOs which have never been tested – except by the chemical companies producing them. Like the Wizard of Oz, no need to look behind the curtain there. FDA approved – by the head of the chemical company now working there, now back at the chemical or drug company at a huge salary increase. No collusion there, you think? Best advice I’ve found has been on http://www.mercola.com & other healthy sites.