Understanding Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease can be hard to understand, especially when a family member is suffering. No diagnosis is the same and it affects each person differently. Learn more about this disease that affects 5.5 million people from Mitra Hashemi, MD, a primary care physician specializing in Geriatric Care, with Adventist Medical Group.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
Dr. Hashemi: Alzheimer’s is a disease that damages the brain and causes memory loss. Those affected by Alzheimer’s tend to have trouble speaking, thinking and completing daily activities. Once someone is diagnosed, the disease will gradually get worse. Some people may not struggle until the disease has severely advanced, whereas others will start to show more symptoms just months after being diagnosed.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF ALZHEIMER’S?
Dr. Hashemi: Alzheimer’s is caused by changes within the brain. People with Alzheimer’s begin to lose neurotransmitters, a chemical in the brain that allow the nerves inside the brain to communicate properly. An error in the neurotransmitters causes a loss of key brain function resulting in memory loss.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE DISEASE?
Dr. Hashemi: The first symptom of the disease is typically memory loss. Other early symptoms could be repeating questions or wandering, but in most cases the person with the disease doesn’t see a problem. Instead, the people around them notice they are having trouble with their memory. Other symptoms will become more apparent as the disease worsens and may include:
- Trouble with decision making
- Becoming confused about the time and day
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Delay in finding words to say
- Hard time doing everyday tasks
HOW IS A PERSON DIAGNOSED?
Dr. Hashemi: Your doctor will ask a few questions to test your memory and mental skills. They may also ask you to complete a few daily tasks. A blood test and CT or MRI scan to look at your brain will also be completed. By looking at these tests together, your doctor can form a diagnosis.
HOW DO YOU TREAT ALZHEIMER’S?
Dr. Hashemi: While there is currently no cure, there are medications that can slow down the progression of the disease and make it easier to live with. Talk with your doctor about which management care plan is right for you.
MY LOVED ONE WAS RECENTLY DIAGNOSED; HOW CAN I HELP THEM?
Dr. Hashemi: The best thing you can do for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is to support them, ask questions and take care of yourself. Other tips that could help you support your loved one and yourself are:
- Become familiar with the disease
- Discuss measures they want to take in the future such as starting, continuing, ending or limiting treatments
- Research home care options, nursing homes or assisted living facilities
- Check on their comfort such as pain level, hunger and other areas that could affect their behavior or stress level
- Maintaining a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, getting physical activity and rest is important for both your loved one and yourself
- Ask questions at doctor’s appointments
- Find a support group for caregivers