Everyone experiences Alzheimer's disease differently. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of Alzheimer's disease is a key component of starting the recovery journey.
Learn about Alzheimer's disease
The most common form of dementia, one that accounts for 60 to 80% of all dementia cases, is Alzheimer’s disease. Characterized by impairments in memory, thought processes, and behaviors, this neurocognitive disorder is degenerative in nature and typically occurs in individuals aged 65 and older, though some cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s have been reported in people in their 40s or 50s. In the beginning stages of this disease, individuals may struggle to remember names or details pertaining to specific events. As time goes on, sufferers may require round-the-clock assistance in completing the most mundane of tasks.
While memory impairments and decreases in motor functioning are commonly associated with aging, it is important to know that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are not run-of-the-mill aspects of getting older. Changes in mood and behavior, confusion, disorientation, and difficulty walking, speaking, and even swallowing are red flags that should not be ignored. Early detection of this disease is key to slowing its progression. While there is no known cure yet, there are effective treatment options available for Alzheimer’s that can greatly improve the lives of those living with this form of dementia. Through the use of medication and therapeutic interventions and techniques, individuals grappling with this disorder can have an improved quality of life.
Alzheimer's disease statistics
It is estimated that more than five million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of those diagnosed with this disease is expected to triple by the year 2050. Furthermore, the prevalence of this neurocognitive disorder is higher among women, with 3.2 million women living with Alzheimer’s compared to 1.8 million men. Lastly, Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death among adults in the United States.
Causes and risk factors for Alzheimer's disease
Being that research has yet to conclude an isolated cause for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, experts on neurocognitive disorders agree that a number of contributing factors lead to the disease’s onset. Genetic, physical, and environmental influences, in addition to other risk factors, are cited as the most significant determinants for the development of this condition. Consider the following explanations:
Genetic: Family history of Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be one of the most compelling causes for the disorder. When an individual has a biological parent who suffers from this condition, there is a 50% chance that that same person could eventually present with Alzheimer’s symptoms at some point in life. According to researchers, the reason for this increased likelihood is due to the presence of genetic mutations that are known to precede the onset of symptoms. And because genes are hereditary, it can be concluded that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease can be explained by an individual’s genetic history.
Physical: Alzheimer’s disease is known to have a profound effect on a person’s brain as the disease progresses. Nerve cell damage and death can lead to the brain’s inability to transmit and store information, which explains why those with this disease display signs of cognitive impairments. Additionally, as symptoms worsen, the overall mass of the brain begins to decrease.
Environmental: Some studies have discovered that environmental factors can contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Smoking, not exercising, and lacking regular social interactions can have the potential to impact whether or not a person experiences symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, scientists agree that further research needs to be done on environmental influences as it relates to Alzheimer’s.
- Being of advanced age
- Family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other neurocognitive disorder
- Family history of mental health conditions
- Having Down syndrome – individuals with Down syndrome have a high likelihood of displaying Alzheimer’s disease symptoms as early as 40 years old due to changes that can occur within the brain
- Experiencing trauma to the head
- Experiencing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes
Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease
Depending on the progression of the disease itself, the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary from person to person. When consulting with a mental health professional and medical staff about the possibility of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it is crucial to document and report the presence of any of the following behavioral, physical, cognitive, or psychosocial symptoms:
- Communication impairments
- Hindered social skills
- Needing help to carry out tasks
- Frequently misplacing things
- Getting lost in places that were once familiar
- Difficulty adhering to instructions and/or directions
- Being accusatory of others
- Impaired motor functioning
- Weakness of the muscles
- Lack of balance
- Loss of weight
- Lack of focus
- Loss of facial / object recognition
- Inability to reason
- Poor decision-making
- Moderate to severe memory impairment
- Fluctuations in mood
- Changes to personality / temperament
- Frequent agitation
- Decreased motivation
Effects of Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer’s disease can cause a number of devastating effects if symptoms continue to progress without treatment. Since Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease, symptoms are likely to worsen over time and possibly lead to the following outcomes:
- Inability to perform or complete tasks without assistance
- Drastic changes in personality and temperament
- Impairment with language and overall communication
- Withdrawal or isolation from friends and loved ones
- Permanent memory loss
- Disorientation to people and places that were once familiar
Alzheimer's disease and co-occurring disorders
It is quite common for a person to suffer from another mental health condition when an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is present. The most frequently diagnosed mental illnesses that can occur alongside symptoms of Alzheimer’s are:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance use disorders