The Alzheimer’s Epidemic – An Overview
Alzheimer’s is the most popular form of dementia, a condition in which the cognitive and behavioral abilities of the brain deteriorate severely enough to interfere with daily life. It’s also the 6th leading cause of death among US adults, with patient deaths expected to reach 14 million by 2050 from the current 5.7 million.
Alzheimer’s is a disease mostly diagnosed in elder persons aged 65 and above. However, according to Alzheimer’s Association, more than 200,000 US individuals below that age are also affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Also, almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
Every 65 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed with this disease.
Here are some other important Alzheimer’s facts:
- 10% of all senior adults have Alzheimer’s
- African-Americans of age 65 and above are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia as other ethnicities
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases
- Between 2000 and 2015, death from Alzheimer’s increased by 123% while the death from heart attack (which causes most deaths in the US) decreased by 11%
- Alzheimer’s related deaths exceed the number of deaths caused by breast cancer and prostate cancer combined
- Alzheimer’s takes a devastating toll on caregivers, 83% of whom are family, friends, or other unpaid individuals
- In 2018, Americans will have to burden an estimated $277 billion as caring for those with Alzheimer’s
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
How Alzheimer’s Develops
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease in which the death of brain cells happens over time. Eventually, it leads to a condition in which the brain tissue is left with fewer and fewer nerve cells and connections.
Some researchers believe it is caused by the presence of tiny protein deposits, Plaques and Tangles. Located outside and inside of the nerve cells they block communication among nerve cells, and disrupt other processes that cells need to survive. The result is cell degeneration and death, causing Alzheimer’s.
However, these are just theories based on similarity of patterns found during autopsy studies. We don’t know the exact reasons of Alzheimer’s as of now. That’s the biggest reason why we don’t currently know about any cure for the disease.
If you want to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, take a look at these 16 slides produced by the Alzheimer’s Association that will help you visualize what happens in the process of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
7 Early Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Most of us notice occasional problems with thinking and remembering certain things. However, to receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a person must have experienced a serious decline in the cognitive or behavioral functions that interfered with their ability to function during work, at home, or some common activity.
Here are the early symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease:
- Difficulty remembering new information
As Alzheimer’s changes typically begin with the part of the brain that affects learning, it becomes hard for patients to remember recently learned information.
How to identify:
- You’ll ask for the same information over and over again
- You’ll not be able to recall the parts of a recent conversation
- You may get lost on a familiar route
- You’ll increasingly rely on memory aids such as reminder notes or electronic devices
As the condition advances, patients may find impairments in reasoning, complex tasking, and exercising judgment. For example:
- Unable to understand the road signs
- Inability to remember the rules of a favorite game
- Poor decision-making skills
- Unable to manage finances
People with Alzheimer’s can also lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. For example
- Getting confused about the day of the week
- Forgetting where they are and how they got there
- Trouble understanding something that’s not happening immediately
Some people may also face some vision problems, without having any problem with their eyesight. For example:
- Problem focusing on words and sentences while reading
- Difficulty judging distance, and determining colors and contrast
- Inability to recognize faces, or a common object in direct view
Many people report of trouble remembering names, and recalling right words for describing a topic while they are in conversation.
- Stopping in the middle of a conversation with no idea how to continue
- Repeating an already stated idea again and again, as if they remember only that much
- Calling things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a ‘watch’ a ‘hand-clock’)
People suffering from Alzheimer’s may also show signs of forgetting about just recently concluded activities, such as
- Keeping things at an unusual place and unable to retrace their steps to find them again
- Feeling so irritated and lost that they begin to accuse others of stealing
A person with Alzheimer’s will show easily recognizable changes in their mood, personality, and behavior.
- Out-of-character mood changes
- Apathy, irritation, and social withdrawal
- Confused, suspicious, fearful or anxious
- Easily irritable when unable to do a job in a specifically developed manner
There is no known treatment that can stop Alzheimer’s from progressing. However, there are treatments that can treat Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and improve quality of life for both patients and caregivers.
Call Newport Family Medicine if you’re experiencing the above mentioned Alzheimer’s signs and symptoms for a long time.
Newport Family Medicine, located in Newport Beach, CA, offers full-service family practice from pregnancy through childhood and adulthood to maturity. We provide comprehensive health care for people of all age groups.