By: Omar Dahir
What is it?
Symptoms and Characteristics
Early stage: Where the mild symptoms of Alzheimer's is evident. Common symptoms include forgetfulness, changes in mood and personality, and communication difficulties. People in this stage still have many of their functional abilities and require little to no assistance.
Middle stage: A greater decline of cognitive and functional ability. Memory and other cognitive abilities may deteriorate although those at this stage are still aware of their condition. They will need help on daily tasks such as bathing, dressing and toileting.
Late stage: At this point the person with the disease will not have the ability to communicate verbally and will need 24 hour care. They will not remember anything and will not be aware of their condition. (Alzheimer' Society, 2014)
- Alzheimer's mainly affects two types of memories: Episodic and Semantic.
- Episodic memories are memories of events and tasks from a specific past experience (Tulving, 2002). Because of this, people with Alzheimer’s tend to repeat things over and over not realizing they have said it already, and forget conversations or appointments and not remember them.
- Semantic memory is the general world knowledge and individual accumulates throughout life. People with Alzheimer's tend to forget the meaning of objects and concepts such as letters and numbers (Tulving, 2002). Because of the damage to semantic memory, a patient may misplace objects and put them in odd places and forget the names of family and everyday objects. They will also forget about their surrounding, not understand the time it is, and will even get lost in their own house.
- In the two types of memories, there are also levels of each memory; short-term and long-term
- Short term is recent memory stored for a short period of time. In the initial stages of the disease, short term memory is only impaired and will make the individual seem forgetful. However, since short term memory is essential for obtaining new information, the impairment may stop the individual from doing daily work and interacting socially. (Mayo Clinic, 2014)
- Long term memory is memory stored and kept for a long period of time. It is not affected during the initial stages of the disease but as it progresses, long term memory may be fractured. Eventually, towards the final stages, people with the disease may not even be able to recall their own names. (Tulving, 2002)
Personality and Behavior
- Alzheimer's also affects a way one behaves and feels. An person with the disease may act completely different with the disease and may experience depression, mood swings, anxiety, aggressiveness, and delusions.
- Many people with the disease tend to aimlessly wander. Although the exact reason is unknown, it is thought to be because the sufferer does not know where they are and do not remember or understand their surrounding, even if it is their own home. (Mayo Clinic, 2015)
Who is affected?
There is no evidence that a certain group is more likely to get the disease and race or socio-economic situations are not factors that can cause the disease. However, there is some evidence that suggests that those with a higher level education are less at risk than those with a lower level of education. (Alzheimer's Europe, 2015)
* We are not quite sure about what exactly causes Alzheimer’s
* However, people who do have the disease have an abnormal amount of protein, fibers, and a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain
* The lack of these essential substances in the brain reduces the effectiveness of healthy neurons and, eventually, they will die.
* The damage spreads to the grey matter, which is responsible for though process, and the hippocampus, responsible for memory. (Mayo Clinic, 2014)
What increases risks?
* Age is a very important factor in the development of Alzheimer’s. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every 5 years after reaching the age of 65. However, approximately 5% of the people with the disease are under 65; this is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
* Genes an individual inherits from their parents can contribute to Alzheimer’s. Although the chances getting Alzheimer’s if a close relative has it only increases slightly, some families have a certain gene, known as apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE E-e4), that, if inherited, greatly increases the chances. It is estimated that APOE E-e4 is the cause of 25% of all Alzheimer's cases. (Alzheimer's Association, 2014)
Impact of the Illness
In the early stages of Alzheimer's, an individual's daily life is in tact and they merely come off as forgetful at times. However, as the disease progresses, care will be needed for the individual as they will not be able to do important things like bathing or eating. A person with the disease will not be able to work and will not be able to keep social ties as they are not able to communicate. (Mayo Clinic, 2014)
Family members tend to take different responsibilities when a loved one is diagnose with Alzheimer's. Sons and daughters tend to be caregivers while spouses usually become the primary caregiver mainly because the individual with the disease needs care at all times. As the disease progresses, it will make life harder for family members as they see their loved one slowly forget them and everything they love. Not only that but it burdens family members with the duty to take care of the family member (assisting them with bathing, eating, etc) all while doing regular housework. Taking care of a family member who has Alzheimer's is stressful because of these reasons. (Alzheimer's Society, 2014)
Local Support Systems
Alzheimer's Society is a support group that helps those with Alzheimer's and helps educate those who want to learn more or who want to cope after being diagnosed. It services over 150 communities all across Canada, making it easily accessible to many people. It provides counselling, programs, and support for those who need it. Alzheimer's Society greatly helps those that are diagnosed with Alzheimer's and have a hard time coping or knowing what to do. Detailed information is completely free and is able to be found on their website (http://www.alzheimer.ca). Things like emotional support greatly helps those with the disease try to live a normal and comfortable life without suffering from depression and anxiety. Their headquarters is located in 20 Eglinton Ave W #1600, Toronto, ON M4R 1K8. (Alzheimer's Society, 2015)
As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer's will need help to do simple things such as bathing or eating and caring for them can be a full time job. Since many family members can not fully take care of their loved one with the disease due to having jobs are not living close enough, professional care is required. However, professional care is highly expensive and cannot be afforded by many people. Nursing facilities can cost up to $70,000 a year while live-in nurses can cost even more (Alzheimer's Association, 2015). This will leave families in a very tough position and will give them a lot of stress and tension which should not happen.
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