The Truth Behind Alzheimer’s
In 2012, nearly 747,000 Canadians were affected by Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases. By 2031, nearly 1.4 million Canadians will be affected by the disease and will cost Canada’s health care system an average of $293 billion by 2040. In the world, Alzheimer’s affects nearly 50 million people with only 1 in 4 being diagnosed.
The disease accounts for nearly two-thirds of dementia cases and is the 5th and 9th leading cause of death for females and males respectively. Alzheimer’s, to say the least, is a nasty disease that has wreaked havoc across the world since its diagnosis in 1906.
Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s are usually in need of coordinated care that meets their particular needs. At Senior Homecare by Angels, we dedicate ourselves to providing specific Alzheimer’s Support Services for seniors in Calgary, Alberta, and surrounding areas.
Like most caregivers, Senior Homecare by Angels understands that Alzheimer’s care is a tall order and providing loved ones with comfortability and familiarity is key to a safe and secure life. But, why is Alzheimer’s such a persistent and deadly disease? Why is care for Alzheimer’s patients so particular? Through this article, we will explore the ins and outs of Alzheimer’s and how you can help yourself or a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s
As mentioned above, Alzheimer’s was first identified in 1906 by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Dr. Alois Alzheimer. While describing his patient, known as Auguste D., Alzheimer found the patient suffered from memory loss and debilitating psychological changes. When examining the autopsy, Alzheimer found shrinkage, abnormal deposits (“plaques”) and fibrous clumps (“tangles”) in and around the nerve cells of the brain.
As science and technology evolved, these deposits and fibrous clumps were found to be proteins. Beta Amyloid or Beta-A proteins, used for neural growth and repair, were found clumped together in the brain (plaques) in those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Due to this clumping, signals transferred between nerve cells are halted causing the cells to die. Alternatively, fibrous clumps (tangles) were found to be Tau proteins that are used as stabilizers to axonal microtubules (nerve fibres). In someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, tau protein collapses preventing signals and nutrients from neurons in the brain to be transported. This eventually results in cell death, reduction of brain function and a backend of other health problems.
As depicted by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, below is an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain of a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s (right) and a patient without the disease (left). Of note, is the presence or absence of brain tissue (shrinking).
The effects of Alzheimer’s Disease
As Alzheimer’s strictly affects the brain, it can also have drastic effects on the body. Whether it’s with cognition, feeling, or mobility, Alzheimer’s can be hard to predict. As each person is affected differently it can be difficult to pinpoint the disease’s progression, early-onset, and appearance. However, one thing is for certain, Alzheimer’s always ends in the death of the patient.
Below are some symptoms patients of Alzheimer’s experience:
Memory problems are a typical symptom of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. A person’s ability to understand, recall, think, and communicate is often hindered because of the disease. This includes confusion, memory loss, the inability to follow conversation and failure to perform simple tasks. Sundowning (late-day confusion) can also be displayed where patients are more prone to agitation and confusion during late hours of the day rather than in the morning.
Some patients may suffer from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s. For those with MCI, memory problems are more apparent but do not affect a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities. People with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases than people without MCI (though in some cases MCI does not always lead to these diseases). MCI is usually diagnosed by a doctor or in tandem with brain imaging and cerebrospinal fluid tests to determine if MCI is due to Alzheimer’s.
- What cognitive impairment looks like in a patient:
- Repeating questions/conversations
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Consistently misplaces possessions, putting them in illogical places
- Consistent forgetting of recent conversations, events, appointments,
- General loss of memory including names of family members, life events, and everyday objects
- Inability to find the right words, identifiers or expression of thoughts
- Inconsistent Mood and Regulation of Emotions
- A person with Alzheimer’s may have inconsistent regulation of their emotions. Apathy, anger, loss of interest and mood spikes are all common signs. Those with Alzheimer’s do not get excited easily and often will not find interest in previously enjoyable hobbies or activities.
- What Inconsistent Mood and Regulation of Emotions looks like in a patient:
- Withdrawing from social events
- Mood swings
- Lack of interest in hobbies
- Unmotivated to complete tasks
- Increased irritation and aggressiveness
A person with Alzheimer’s will often display odd behavior that seems out of character. It’s common to see an increased level of aggression and hostile behavior. Outbursts of restlessness and physicality are usually expressed.
- What sporadic looks like in a patient:
- Constant restlessness
- Distrust in others
- Random wandering/searching
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Aggressive outbursts
- Physical outbursts
- Accusatory behavior (belief something was stolen, lost)
- Reduced of Physical Ability
Alzheimer’s can affect a person’s coordination, mobility, balance, and completion of day to day tasks. Reduced ability to bathe, eat and go to the bathroom is common for patients with Alzheimer’s.
What reduced physical ability looks like in a patient
- Inability to perform basic day to day tasks
- Reduced mobility
- Lack of spatial awareness
- Loss of inhibitions
- Forgetting to eat, go to the bathroom, bathe
Overview of Disease Progression
Remember, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that is inconsistent. This means that not all patients will progress along the same path at the same time. Certain symptoms may not occur until years later or simply not at all. Each person is affected differently which makes Alzheimer’s hard to research and predict. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after the diagnosis but can live up to 20 years depending on other health factors. Keep in mind, changes in the brain can happen before Alzheimer’s is even diagnosed or signs of the disease become apparent (categorized as preclinical Alzheimer’s). Below are the stages patients progress though when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Mild Alzheimer’s Disease (Early Stage)
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person can completely function independently. They can drive, make meals and, by all signs, appear to be normal and healthy. However, the person may feel they are having lapses in memory in terms of forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. These issues may be noticed by friends and family. Doctors may be able to detect problems in memory and focus.
Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease (Middle Stage)
Moderate Alzheimer’s is typically the longest stage and can last for several years. At this point, a person with moderate Alzheimer’s will need a greater level of care. Those in the moderate stage will have greater difficulty performing tasks, have more pronounced dementia symptoms and have greater issues expressing thoughts and communicating. Confusion, mood swings, and changes in sleep patterns are all apparent at this stage.
Severe Alzheimer’s (Late Stage)
In the late stage of Alzheimer’s, patients fully lose the ability to be independent. They are unable to respond to environmental cues, carry a conversation or control movement. Dementia is severe, memory and cognition are absent to the point where personality changes are apparent. Patients need consistent help with daily activities and basic functions. At this stage, patients are more susceptible to infections as the immune system is compromised.
Though a lot of these symptoms overlap, some skills may be preserved. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, fine arts skills such as listening to music, reading or doing crafts are often preserved until later stages of the disease, though it is unknown as to why.
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
Dementia and Alzheimer’s often get confused as being the same. However, this is incorrect. Dementia is more an overall term to describe symptoms relating to memory, the performance of daily activities, and communication. In terms of understanding, Dementia is more of an umbrella categorization that Alzheimer’s falls under.
Alzheimer’s is currently the most common type of dementia (responsible for 50-70% of dementia cases) though other disorders that aren’t Alzheimer’s can cause dementia. While Alzheimer’s is a disease, Dementia is not. Dementia is a syndrome; a group of symptoms that consistently occur together. While Alzheimer’s always involves Dementia, Dementia doesn’t always involve Alzheimer’s as Dementia can be caused by other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease. Dementia can even be apparent through HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), vascular diseases, mental illness or chronic drug or alcohol abuse.
When Should You See a Doctor?
As the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s are memory loss, consult your doctor if you or a loved one suffers from this symptom. Effective communication with your doctor is a great first step to diagnosing Alzheimer’s or other memory-related problems. Remember, just because you are forgetting things, it does not mean you have Alzheimer’s. Don’t be afraid, it never hurts to talk to your doctor as they can alleviate your worries or, at the very least, catch the issue quickly before the symptoms progress into something worse. It’s always better to be over careful.
Finding a Doctor
The first step to diagnosis is finding a doctor you are comfortable with. If you already have a family doctor, go see them with the symptoms you are having. They will often refer you to an expert to help further diagnose the problem. It is common for patients to be referred to neurologists (brain and nervous system specialists), psychiatrists (mood and mind specialists), psychologists (memory and mental function specialists), or Geriatricians (older adult care and Alzheimer’s specialists) if they are suffering from memory loss.
What to bring to your doctor
If possible, keep a log of symptoms before you go in to see your doctor. Make sure to keep track of when the symptoms began, how it made you feel and how long it has occurred. Having a specific documented log/journal will help you remember how severe your symptoms are and help your doctor with their diagnosis. Furthermore, having a list of your family health history, personal medications and/or other illnesses on hand will provide more clues to completing the puzzle. Remember, no matter what you feel, even if you think it isn’t a big deal, is still important to discuss. The more information the doctors have the lesser the risk of being misdiagnosed.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
Currently, scientists don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s. It can be narrowed down to a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, though this can differ from person to person. It is confirmed that Alzheimer’s is age-related and affects adults around 65 and older. Age-related changes in the brain largely seem to be the culprit in terms of neurological changes, absence/presence of proteins and genetic makeup. For example, most people with down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s due to having an extra copy of chromosome 21 (a chromosome that contains a gene that increases Beta-A protein). In terms of environment and lifestyle factors, it is confirmed that having a nutritious diet, consistent physical exercise, and mental stimulation help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Is There a Cure?
With changing technology and research, scientists are hard at work trying to find a cure. Though certain clinical trials are ongoing, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. Certain drugs such as donepezil/Aricept (helps mental function) and rivastigmine/Exelon (treats dementia) help maintain mental function, manage behavior and slow down memory loss but do not cure Alzheimer’s as a whole. These drugs are used to regulate neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit messages between neurons) and can help treat each stage of Alzheimer’s, but they do not slow down the process of the disease. It is unconfirmed whether these medications help patients, however, some patients do experience improvements in quality of life for a few years.
As Alzheimer’s is very much behavioral, making Alzheimer’s patients comfortable and inducing repetition-based activities usually helps with caregiving (activities we provide at Senior Homecare by Angels). As the disease progresses, day to daycare is needed for those suffering from moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. As a family member, it can be daunting to face Alzheimer’s head-on. Educating yourself about Alzheimer’s (like you are right now!) is the first step you can take in processing life surrounding Alzheimer’s. Enrolling yourself in programs that teach families about Alzheimer’s and the ways you can help with caregiving can help you with the difficult decisions ahead. Furthermore, care for yourself is most important. Having a strong network of support, informational resources and counseling will all help as you journey through the world of Alzheimer’s.
The Future of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s research continues to be an ongoing process. Experiments to delay, prevent or eradicate the disease continue each year to bring us one step closer to understanding more about Alzheimer’s. In ongoing clinical trials, scientists have been experimenting with drug therapies to target Beta-A protein and specific neurotransmitters to stop the process of Alzheimer’s. From a non-drug standpoint, physical activity, diet and memory tests have been tested to judge their relationship with the disease.
At Senior Homecare by Angels, we know the difficulties surrounding how you manage and navigate life after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. With our Alzheimer’s support services program, we make it easier to care for and support your loved one as they learn to adapt to their condition. Our experienced caregivers can help your loved one continue to live in a place where they feel safest and most comfortable — at home.
Senior Homecare by Angels Alzheimer’s support services
- Gentle Persuasive Approach
- Interactive memory support
- Physical, mental and emotional assistance with day-to-day activities
- Memory reminders for events and appointments
- Medication reminders
- Regular monitoring
- Help managing the confusion, frustration, and agitation of Alzheimer’s
- Daily compassion and companionship
If your loved one suffers from a non-Alzheimer’s form of dementia, you may wish to learn more about our dementia support services.
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The Senior Homecare by Angels team is proud to provide your elderly loved ones with the best home care in Calgary. Our Home Care Services help seniors to remain safe and independent at home. We have a wealth of experience in providing all types of care under many different circumstances. Our wonderful group of caregivers is bonded, insured and have current police background checks completed. Choose Senior Homecare by Angels-Canada’s choice in homecare!
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Gerry Gatto is a trained health care administrator and the owner of Senior Homecare® By Angels a Calgary – based company. Helping Calgary seniors remain in their homes and maintain their independence with the assistance of a dedicated caregiver.
Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories
Alzheimer’s Support, Discussions and Groups
For Local Support Groups and Info Sessions
Primary Care Network
Dementia Advice Through Health Link
24/7 Mental Help Line (1-877-303-2642)
Health Link (811)
What is Alzheimer’s
National Institute of Aging Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet
Alzheimer’s Vs Dementia