Take Action for Alzheimers
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Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of mental decline, or dementia. It damages the brain, causing a steady loss of memory and of how well one can speak, think, and perform their daily activities. Though it gets worse over time, how quickly this happens varies. Some people lose the ability to perform daily activities in the first few years, while others may do fairly well until much later in the disease.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease happens because of changes in the brain. Some of the symptoms may be related to a loss of chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters, that allow nerve cells in the brain to communicate properly.
People with Alzheimer's disease have two things in the brain that are abnormal: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Experts don't yet know if these are side effects of Alzheimer's disease or part of the cause.
What are the symptoms?
For most people, the first symptom of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. Often the person who has a memory problem doesn't notice it, but family and friends do. But the person with the disease may also know that something is wrong. They may:
- Have trouble making decisions
- Be confused about what time and day it is
- Get lost in places they know well
- Have trouble learning and remembering new information
- Have trouble finding the right words to say what they want to say
Mild memory loss is common in people older than 60, but if you feel your memory is getting worse, see your doctor. If it is Alzheimer's, treatment may help.
How is Alzheimer's disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your past health and do a physical exam. They may ask you to do some simple things that test your memory and other mental skills. Your doctor may also check how well you can do daily tasks.
The exam usually includes blood tests to look for another cause of your problems. You may have tests such as CT scans and MRI scans, which look at your brain. By themselves, these tests can't show for sure whether you have Alzheimer's.
How is it treated?
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are medicines that may slow symptoms down for a while and make the disease easier to live with. These medicines may not work for everyone, but most experts think they are worth a try.
How can you help your loved one with Alzheimer's disease?
If you are or will be taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer's, start learning what you can expect. This can help you make the most of the person's abilities as they change. And it can help you deal with new problems as they arise.
Work with your loved one to make decisions about the future before the disease gets worse. It's important to write a living will and a durable power of attorney.
Your loved one will need more and more care as the disease progresses. You may be able to give this care at home, or you may want to think about using assisted living or a nursing home. Ask your doctor about local resources such as support groups or other groups that can help as you care for your loved one.
Help is available.