Age-related forgetfulness is a normal part of growing older and nothing that should cause alarm. However, severe changes in memory and cognitive awareness are not normal and could be signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or AD. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, AD currently affects approximately 5 million people in the U.S., which represents 1 in 8 of the elderly population.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that typically occurs in people over age 65. The disease causes loss of memory and confusion, which may also lead to disorientation and changes in mood and behavior. The condition is caused by an accumulation of amyloid plaque and lesions on the brain that cause brain cells to die. As the lesions proliferate, dementia progresses in patients.
Anyone is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease (Early onset AD can appear as early as age 30), although individuals over age 65 are at the greatest risk. The risk factor further increases for individuals with a family history of AD or who are obese or diabetic. Individuals with Down syndrome or who test positive for the Apo E Gene are also at an increased risk of developing AD.
The earliest symptoms are often dismissed as normal signs of aging, but over time, loved ones may begin to notice some of the other signs of AD:
- Personality Changes
- Changes in Temperament
- Difficulty Making Decisions
- Difficulty Speaking or Communicating
- Difficulty Recognizing Loved Ones
A neurologist can make an Alzheimer’s diagnosis only after conducting a complete neurological and medical examination, which may require the use of lab testing and diagnostic brain imaging.
Treatment and Management
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that is non-curable and non-reversible. There are currently no treatments or medications known to slow the progression of AD. However, there are medications available that can help manage the memory loss, sleep disorders and behavioral changes often associated with the disease.