Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, a disease that is characterized by cognitive and behavioral problems. As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects as many as 5 million Americans, mostly older adults, and is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. People with Alzheimer’s may experience confusion and have problems involving memory, language, and recognizing family and friends—all which impact their ability to carry out daily activities.Although it’s possible for Alzheimer’s to develop in younger individuals (early onset Alzheimer’s), it usually begins after age 60. Even though the risk of Alzheimer’s increases with age, it’s not a normal part of aging.
There is no known specific cause of Alzheimer’s. It’s likely caused by several factors. Age is a risk factor, and this risk doubles every five years after age 65. Genetics may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s, and education, diet, and environment are also being studied as potential risk factors. Certain heath conditions may also be linked to Alzheimer’s; these include the same risk factors for heart disease and stroke (high blood pressure and high cholesterol).
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
Alzheimer’s can only be definitively diagnosed after death with an autopsy. Doctors will instead make a diagnosis of “possible” or “probable” Alzheimer’s. Steps used to make these diagnoses include:
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and no treatment to slow its progress, but there are several FDA-approved drugs used to treat symptoms. By treating symptoms, some individuals are better able to carry out the activities of daily life, as these medicines can help them maintain thinking, memory, or speaking skills. FDA-approved drugs for symptoms of Alzheimer’s include Aricept® (donepezil), Exelon® (rivastigmine), Reminyl® (galantamine), and Namenda® (memantine).
Certain lifestyle factors may also help manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These include diet, physical activity, social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits.
Caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s can be very challenging. As caregiver, your burden may be physical, emotional, and financial. It’s therefore important to find personal support and resources that will educate you and help you deliver safe and effective care.
Support groups can be helpful for caregivers. You can share concerns, experiences, and tips as well as ask questions and find emotional comfort. The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), other national organizations (see Resources below), as well as local organizations offer in-person support groups, and support groups can also be accessed online.
Effective coping skills can help you with daily activities like dressing, bathing, and eating that can become very difficult with a person who has Alzheimer’s. Some general tips for caring for a person with Alzheimer’s include: