What is Alzheimer’s? Signs, stages, types, and treatment
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, which is the name for a range of symptoms that involve the loss of cognitive functioning. These can lead to difficulties with thinking, remembering, problem-solving, reasoning, and other abilities that are serious enough to have an impact on daily life. Alzheimer’s affects nerve cells and causes them to eventually die, which brings about irreversible changes in the brain.
What are the early signs & symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
For many people, memory problems are some of the first signs of Alzheimer’s. These can be relatively mild to start with, however as more brain cells are affected, the symptoms tend to worsen. They are also different from normal signs of ageing, such as forgetting the occasional fact or experiencing slower thinking. The early symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person, but may include:
- Reduced ability to recall recent events or information
- Difficulties with solving problems
- Trouble planning or concentrating
- Issues completing familiar tasks
- Losing personal items
- Getting lost in a familiar place
- Losing track of time and place
- Problems with judgement
- Social withdrawal
- Changes in behaviour, mood and/or personality
- Difficulties interpreting what they see
- Naming familiar objects
- Following or joining conversations
Because Alzheimer’s affects a part of the brain that has a large effect on day-to-day memory, people in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s are still able to recall past events. However, it may also affect their mood. They may exhibit challenging behaviours such as anxiety and/or aggression which are difficult for both the person with Alzheimer’s and those around them.
What causes Alzheimer’s?
Although there has been significant progress in better understanding Alzheimer’s, its causes are not yet fully understood. It’s believed that a genetic mutation may be the cause for people with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Late-onset Alzheimer’s is usually caused by a combination of factors such as age-related changes in the brain that occur over time (for example, blood vessel damage or inflammation), genetic conditions, and overall health.
How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed?
There are several different ways for doctors to determine whether a person has Alzheimer’s. Usually this starts with a health check and standard medical tests to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. Then, they may speak to the individual and family members or friends about their health, medical history, ability to carry out activities, behaviour, and more. They may also conduct cognitive tests at this stage such as being asked to write down things they have been told after a few minutes.
The stages of Alzheimer’s
Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, however, there are several medications that can help manage symptoms. Most medications work best for people in the early or middle stages.
However, medication is not always effective and can often have negative side effects. There are also many non-drug interventions that can help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s, as well as treat its symptoms. These include multisensory stimulation, massage, and psychosocial interventions.
Research shows that using psychosocial interventions systematically can reduce both challenging Alzheimer’s-related behaviours as well as the use of medication. Psychosocial interventions are approaches that aim to reduce emotional and social difficulties. Many methods use psychosocial interventions to meet the needs of people living with Alzheimer’s.
More and more research shows the positive effects they have on reducing challenging behaviours. Examples of psychosocial interventions are reminiscence therapy, music therapy, and meaningful activities. The Tovertafel, for example, is a form of psychosocial intervention.
Developed specifically for seniors living with dementia and other audiences such as children with special needs, the Tovertafel works by projecting interactive lights onto flat surfaces in the form of games. It provides care professionals and family members with a simple way to provide what many people living with Alzheimer’s need: stimulating, enjoyable, relaxing, social activities.
What can you do for someone with Alzheimer’s as a family member?
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be difficult. However, a great place to start is learning as much as possible about the condition, and how to deal with challenging behaviours and other caregiving tips.
Some caregivers find that support groups are a great help, enabling them to share their concerns, questions, experiences, and tips. Many organisations have in-person and online support groups for people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones.
There are also lots of ways that care institutions and caregivers can help improve the quality of care and life for those living with Alzheimer’s. Such as daily physical activity, social interaction, and more.
Tools such as the Tovertafel can be instrumental in increasing positive emotions and helping make day-to-day life happier, brighter, and easier for people living with Alzheimer’s and those who care for them. It does so by stimulating social interaction and ultimately helps caregivers connect with people living with Alzheimer’s.