Patients & Caregivers
What is Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes large numbers of brain cells to die. This affects a person’s ability to remember things, think clearly and use good judgment. It often begins slowly and can be difficult to detect at early stages. Some people may blame their forgetfulness on old age; however, over time, their memory problems get more serious.
If you or someone you know thinks your forgetfulness is getting in the way of your daily routine, it’s time to see your doctor. Seeing the doctor when you first start having memory problems can help you find out what’s causing your forgetfulness. If you have Alzheimer’s, finding the disease early gives you and your family more time to plan for your treatment and care.
When you tell your doctor or specialist about your memory concerns, they may do the following things:
- Perform a medical check-up.
- Take a family history.
- Ask about your everyday tasks (i.e. driving, food shopping, paying bills).
- Talk with a friend or family member about your memory problems.
- Test your memory, counting and language skills.
- Check your blood and urine.
- Order brain scans.
These things can help your doctor determine if the problems you’re experiencing are caused by Alzheimer’s disease or one of many other common causes:
- Bad reaction to medications
- Depression or anxiety
- Lack of nutrients from healthy foods
- Excess of alcohol
- Blood clots or tumors in the brain
- Head injuries, such as concussions
- Kidney, liver or thyroid problems
There are medicines that can treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Most of these medicines work best for people in the early or middle stages of the disease. For some patients, they can keep your memory loss from getting worse for a time. These medicines may have side effects and may not work for everyone. If you are interested in participating in research to improve medications and continue seeking a cure, please visit our research page.
Dementia Risk Factors
As we get older, our risk of developing dementia goes up.
Females are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease. One reason for this may be that females tend to live longer than their male counterparts.
African-Americans have a prevalence rate 2X higher than their white counterparts. Hispanic/Latinos have a prevalence rate 2.5X higher than their white counterparts.
- Family History
A patient with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease is at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease themselves. While our genes have some influence into our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, there is not a gene we can look at that gives a guarantee of developing or avoiding Alzheimer’s disease.
- Medical History
- Cardiovascular Health
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Mental Health
- Cardiovascular Health
Clues of Memory Loss
- Changes in memory that change daily life
When memory and thinking problems start to get in the way of someone’s independence and ability to carry out their daily routine, this could be a clue of serious memory loss. If someone is repeating themselves frequently or continues to ask the same questions over and over, this can be one of the earliest signs of serious memory loss.
- Difficulty planning or solving problems
Dementia often first effects the parts of the brain in charge of complex tasks. This can make following a recipe, managing medication and budgeting more difficult than they might have been in the past.
- New challenges with familiar tasks
If someone’s brain is beginning to show signs of serious memory loss, they may begin to forget the rules of their favorite game or find it difficult to continue with favorite hobbies.
- Disorientation with time and place
Feeling confused about the time of the day and even the time of the year is often the kind of disorientation people may feel in serious memory loss. They may also have episodes of not knowing where they are or how they got there.
- Accelerated visual-spatial difficulties
Dementia can impact the brain’s ability to perceive distance and contrast between colors. It is also possible that people may begin seeing things that others cannot. It is important to mention these difficulties to the doctor.
- Language challenges
It is common for many people to momentarily forget a word or name, only to think of it hours later. What can be a clue of serious memory loss is when it becomes difficult to express their thoughts or understand what others are telling them. Conversations may become difficult to participate in and people may begin to feel frustrated.
- Diminished ability to retrace steps
Many people misplace keys, wallets, glasses and phones, and are able to relocate them by retracing their steps. If someone loses this ability and even believes that the item has been stolen, it can be a clue of serious memory loss.
- Decreased judgment
Dementia causes people to lose their ability to make informed decisions by considering the risks and benefits. This decreased judgment can be dangerous to the person, physically, financially and emotionally.
- Isolation from social engagement
If a social person begins to withdraw from their social activities, this could be a clue that they are not able to participate in conversations like they used to or may even feel afraid of forgetting a friend’s name or repeating a question or story.
- Personality changes
Dementia causes change in the brain that can also change someone’s personality. If they are self-conscious of the change in their independence, they may become defensive. If they believe someone is stealing from them, they may become paranoid or suspicious. If they have trouble expressing their thoughts, they may become frustrated and angry.
Age-related Brain ChangesWe’ve all forgotten a name, where we put our keys, or if we locked the front door. It’s normal to forget things once in a while. Forgetting how to tip the wait staff, use the telephone, or find your way home may be signs of a more serious memory problem.
It is true that some of us get more forgetful as we age. It may take longer to learn new things, remember certain words, or find our glasses. These changes are often signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems.
If you are concerned about the possibility of serious memory problems, see Clues of Memory Loss.
To keep your memory sharp and your thinking clear, see below for ways to maintain brain health:
- Keep your mind active.
It is important to find hobbies and interests you enjoy that challenge your brain. This could include activities like reading, writing, playing cards, putting puzzles together, and crosswords. But it can also include crocheting/knitting, gardening, cooking/baking, and listening to music. The key is to find things you enjoy AND challenge you.
- Exercise your body.
The brain’s health is closely connected to the heart’s health. We need the heart to pump oxygen, blood and nutrients up to the brain so that it can work well. In order to keep the heart healthy, we can increase our heart rate for 30 minutes every other day. This can be done by walking briskly, climbing stairs, or seated chair exercises.
- Eat healthy foods.
A heart healthy diet is a brain healthy diet. Eat sugar and salt in moderation, and get plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Engage with your friends and family.
Make time to see the people you enjoy being around and stay in touch with those who might live far away. These social relationships help protect our brain and keep our mood stable.
- Take note of your mood.
Depression and anxiety can impact someone’s mood and the brain’s health. Sleep can also have an impact on how well the brain works.