Alzheimer’s Disease Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

Learn about Alzheimer’s disease

A neurocognitive disorder that is characterized by the onset of significant memory problems, disturbed thought patterns, and dysfunctional behaviors, Alzheimer’s disease is known to be the most common form of dementia in existence today. When individuals suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, their symptoms may initially present mildly and slowly but, due to its degenerative nature, the presence of such symptoms will continually worsen over time. The negative effects that this illness can have on the lives of those afflicted by it are vast and of great detriment. These people typically experience significant difficulty with things such as planning, reasoning, and communicating. Additionally, the severity of the symptoms will continue to worsen as the disease progresses, ultimately rendering individuals incapable of functioning independently, resulting in their need to be looked after by caregivers. Furthermore, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also begin to display noticeable changes in mood and temperament, in the way that they act, and in their personalities as a whole. While receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be terrifying for both the individual receiving the diagnosis, as well as his or her loved ones, it is important to keep in mind that there are treatment options available for Alzheimer’s disease that can help individuals learn to successfully manage their symptoms, significantly prolonging their opportunity to live the highest quality of life possible.

Statistics

Alzheimer’s disease statistics

As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for between 50% and 80% of all known cases of dementia. Thorough research has concluded that an individual’s likelihood of developing this illness doubles approximately every five years once people reach the age of 65. While it is estimated that between 1% and 2% of people who are 70 years old suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, that percentage increases exponentially as the age increases, with nearly 40% of the population who are aged 85 and older struggling with the devastating symptoms of this illness. Additionally, the presence of Alzheimer’s disease has proven to be much more prominent amongst females than it is amongst males, with estimated totals of approximately 3.2 million cases compared to 1.8 million cases respectively. Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease is also now known to be the sixth leading cause of death for adults in the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease

Rather than having identified a single cause that leads to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, scientists and researchers of neurocognitive disorders believe that a combination of various factors work together over time to eventually elicit the onset of this illness. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Widely known to run in families, Alzheimer’s disease is heritable in nature. It is believed by many professionals in the field that one’s genetic makeup plays the most prominent role of all factors in determining whether or not someone is susceptible to developing this illness. It has been noted that when an individual is suffering from Alzheimer’s, there are certain gene mutations that take place and these mutations are likewise known to be hereditary. When a person has a biological parent who has Alzheimer’s disease, he or she is said to have a 50% chance of eventually developing symptoms of this condition at some point in his or her life.

Physical: Degenerative in nature, Alzheimer’s disease is the result of nerve cell damage occurring within an individual’s brain. The presence of this type of nerve cell damage ultimately hinders the brain’s ability to appropriately store and transmit information, leading to the development of certain cognitive deficits that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. The fact that such damage can affect nerve cells in different areas of the brain leads people to experience and react differently to the onset of this condition. In addition, studies have indicated that, as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s worsen in an individual, his or her overall brain mass begins to decrease.

Environmental: Research has provided evidence that certain environmental and lifestyle factors can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Things such as refraining from exercising, smoking, abstaining from eating certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and/or lacking regular, healthy social interactions can increase an individual’s risk for eventually displaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s. That being said, many scientists state that further research still needs to be conducted in order to fully determine environmental influences and their relation to the onset of this form of dementia.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other type of neurocognitive disorder
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Increased age
  • Experiencing head trauma
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • History of diabetes
  • History of coronary artery disease
  • Having Down syndrome (studies have shown that individuals with Down syndrome often develop changes in the brain that have the potential to lead to the development of Alzheimer’s)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will vary in type and severity amongst individuals. Examples of various behavioral, physiological, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may be displayed by an individual who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Aggression
  • Making irrational accusations towards loved ones
  • Disturbed social skills
  • Impaired communication
  • Finding it difficult to adhere to directions and/or instructions
  • Needing assistance in order to perform tasks
  • Frequently misplacing items that are commonly used
  • Getting lost easily, even in places that were once familiar

Physical symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Frequent dizzy spells
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Impaired motor functioning
  • Tremors
  • Weight fluctuations

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired ability to reason
  • Impaired ability to use sound judgment
  • Loss of object recognition
  • Loss of facial recognition
  • Inability to focus
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Excessive irritability
  • Excessive agitation
  • Feelings of anger
  • Feelings of hostility
  • Alterations in one’s personality
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects

Effects of Alzheimer’s disease

When individuals are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and do not receive the treatment they need, there can be a number of devastating consequences that result. Unfortunately, even when treatment is sought and implemented, people with Alzheimer’s disease often find themselves suffering from progressively worsening symptoms over time. Examples of the possible long-term effects that can result from Alzheimer’s disease may include the following:

  • Isolation
  • Permanent memory loss
  • Dramatic changes in personality and temperament
  • Onset of aggressive behaviors
  • Disorientation of person, place, time, and/or situation
  • Losing the ability to recognize loved ones
  • Onset of language difficulties / communication struggles
  • Loss of the ability to perform tasks independently

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alzheimer’s disease and co-occurring disorders

When individuals suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, it is not uncommon for them to experience symptoms of other mental health conditions as well. The most frequently known mental illnesses know to occur alongside Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use disorders

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