Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition in which the brain cells start dying slowly. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2017 figures, about 5.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Out of these, close to 5.3 million are above the age of 65 and close to 200,000 are below 65. The condition is considered to be a form of dementia that affects most commonly the older adults.
What causes Alzheimer’s?
Neurons are the communication “highways” of the brain that enable crucial signals to travel from brain to other body cells and vice versa. These signals make coordination, movement, thinking, speaking, and numerous other functions possible. A healthy brain of an adult has hundred billion neurons that form connections with each other through gaps called synapses. These synapses transfer the signals from one neuron to another and are important for creating memories, emotions, skills, and sensations.
In Alzheimer’s some protein fragments called “beta-amyloid” start to accumulate and cause tangles within the neurons, leading to a disruption of their normal function. This leads to a slow death of the brain cells, ultimately compromising most functions of the brain.
Although difficult to detect in the very early stages, the following signs are usually the most common red flags associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Early detection can help provide as much of supportive care and therapy as possible.
Ten common signs of Alzheimer’s
- A loss in memory: The most typical and characteristic sign of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. Many times, it may be confused as part of aging or stress. While for most people it is common to forget certain things occasionally, in Alzheimer’s, the forgetting gets progressively worse. The most common problem is the loss of memory of information that has recently been learned. Confusion or difficulty recalling dates, names, and events and repeatedly asking for the same information are warning signs.
- Difficulty in following sequences: Following instructions, plans or a series of subsequent steps, as in following a recipe, becomes increasingly difficult. Certain tasks that were easily handled earlier, such as counting money or paying bills, become challenging.
- Difficulty with familiar tasks: Difficulty in concentrating on tasks and taking a much longer time to do easy tasks are typical red flags. People with Alzheimer’s have trouble reaching a familiar location, may forget where they are headed or forget the rules of a game they knew well.
- Problems with language, date, and time: One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is a confusion with time and language. Those with this condition find it difficult to remember the right words and may substitute them with words that are inappropriate to the context. Mixing up date, seasons, and time is another crucial warning sign.
- Misplacing things: People with Alzheimer’s may not remember the usual places for certain things around the home. They may forget where the iron needs to be placed, and may keep it inside the refrigerator, for instance.
- Problems with complex thinking: Abstract thinking is affected in Alzheimer’s leading to an inability to understand the significance of certain words, sentences or numbers.
- Mood changes: People with Alzheimer’s could experience severe mood changes that could range from depression, being easy going to extreme aggression or agitation.
- Personality changes: Those with Alzheimer’s can also experience personality changes, including developing new phobias, confusion, suspicions, and irrational paranoia.
- Withdrawal from social connections: People with Alzheimer’s start to disconnect from friends, social networks, hobbies or sports that they were previously engaged in. Avoiding social connections could be also due to the fact that they become aware of the changes within them.
- Loss of interest in grooming: People with Alzheimer’s may lose interest or be unable to take care of themselves in terms of daily grooming including bathing and/or brushing.