Currently, over 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, projected to reach nearly 13 million by 2050. Topping vascular dementia, accounting for 60%-80 of dementia cases, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Learn more about Alzheimer’s, its stages, common symptoms and treatment options.
The most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease causes a continuous decline in cognitive functioning, behavioral abilities and social skills, negatively affecting:
- Thinking and reasoning
- Focus and concentration
- Sensory input and motor output
- Movement and coordination
Degenerative and gradual in nature, Alzheimer’s progresses through three main stages: early, middle and late. In the early stage, mild symptoms may not be very apparent, but close family and friends may notice subtle changes (such as frequently losing or misplacing objects). Moderate symptoms, such as being forgetful of personal history, become more pronounced in the middle stage – which is typically the longest stage. An individual displaying middle stage symptoms will need assistance with most of their daily activities but can still function independently. Within the last stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement. Around-the-clock care and supervision is required, and most people in this terminal stage of Alzheimer’s die from a related underlying complication or condition.
Common Symptoms by Stage
Early stage (mild): Trouble recalling recent events, finding valuable objects, making plans and managing money
Middle stage (moderate): Difficulty remembering things, planning events, reading or writing, keeping track of time and completing daily activities
- Other common issues: Personality changes (hallucinations, paranoia or delusions); wandering; and restlessness, agitation and anxiety
Late stage (severe): Inability to walk or swallow, control bowels and bladder, carry on a conversation, and be aware of surroundings
- Other common issues: Increased vulnerability to infections, especially pneumonia
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help treat the symptoms. By increasing the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, drugs like donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine can stabilize symptoms for a period of time and are most effective if started early. Related issues, such as sleep disturbances and depression, can also be treated with prescriptions or non-pharmacologic therapies (e.g., pet, reminiscence, music, etc.)
There’s no certain way to prevent Alzheimer’s, but similar to vascular dementia, a healthy lifestyle can help reduce risk.
- Don’t smoke or quit smoking
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly
- Eat well-balanced meals
- Manage stress
- Monitor blood pressure and other chronic conditions
- Stay mentally and socially active
If you are seeing signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in your loved one, work with your doctor to develop a diagnosis. They will evaluate their health history, examine their symptoms and determine the stage via cognitive tests, brain scans or other diagnostic means. Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease by visiting our blog or calling our dementia care specialists at 817-877-1199.