Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disease, which means that it will worsen over time. In the early stages, memory loss and other symptoms are mild. It destroys memory and thinking skills and, in later stages, physical functions. In late-stage Alzheimer's, people can no longer communicate or respond to their environment.
Scientists don't know what causes Alzheimer's. They suspect that the brain damage and symptoms come from amyloid plaques and Tau tangles in the brain. Plaques are deposits of amyloid proteins that build up. Tangles are twisted fibers of tau protein that build up inside nerve cells. Also, neurons in the brain stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons and die. Those neurons are needed to send messages between different parts of the brain and from the brain to parts of the body. That's why people with Alzheimer's experience physical symptoms as well as cognitive.
Typically, the damage starts in the part of the brain that's responsible for forming memories. As more neurons die, more parts of the brain are affected. In the final stage, the damage has spread throughout the brain and the brain itself has shrunken significantly.
The most common early symptom is difficulty remembering newly learned information. Trouble finding the right words, vision or spatial issues and impaired reasoning or judgment. In many cases, one of the biggest challenges in the early stages is that they may not recognize that they have a serious problem.
Other symptoms include: Having a hard time with everyday tasks; trouble focusing; feeling confused or frustrated, especially at night; trouble communicating; mood swings - outbursts of anger, anxiety, and depression; feeling disoriented and getting lost easily.
As Alzheimer's spreads through the brain, the person will need a higher level of care as symptoms increase in severity. Added to the above-listed symptoms additional symptoms occur such as physical problems, like a strange walk or poor coordination or even difficulty walking; disorientation and increasing confusion about events, time, date, and place; paranoia and suspicion toward family, friends and professional caregivers; trouble dressing, bathing and using the toilet.
In the later stages, the person will continue to have all these issues with added trouble such as difficulty speaking, swallowing and probably walking very little or not walking at all any longer; inability to recognize or name family members or people close to them.
At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer's and there are no survivors. There are FDA-approved drugs that may improve quality of life for both the person with Alzheimer's and their family. These drugs will not stop the disease or even slow it down really. They will, however, reduce or stabilize Alzheimer's symptoms like memory loss and confusion, which may in turn help with behavioral symptoms.
People with Alzheimer's - with any type of Dementia really - are scared. They know something is wrong, but are unsure of what it is. They are confused about what is happening to them and this causes a lot of the behavioral symptoms. Their world has been turned upside down! Have patience with them.
Alzheimer's disease progresses in three stages. Early stage with minimal symptoms. Middle stage with increasing cognitive impairment. And the final stage where the person needs help with all activities of living and may not be able to communicate or engage with the world.
People with Alzheimer's can live with the disease for 3-4 years before symptoms become noticeable to others. Survival can range from 4-20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
It's a horrific diagnosis. But take heart, if your parent was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it means there is a greater chance you will get it NOT a guarantee. We need a cure. Let's work together and find one.