Alzheimer’s is a crippling and terrifying condition that has reached almost epidemic proportions in Western societies. In the US, about 4.5 million people have been diagnosed. Most of us know of someone, or some family affected by this terrible illness.
Key Signs to Look For
If you suspect that a loved one may possibly be developing Alzheimer’s, there are seven key signs to look for:
- repeating the same story, multiple times, word for word.
- repeating the same question over and over and forgetting any response.
- wearing the same dirty clothes and insisting they are still clean, or neglecting to wash and claiming to have bathed.
- forgetting how to pay bills or keep financial records.
- getting easily disoriented or lost in familiar territory, and forgetting where they have placed household objects.
- forgetting how to perform simple skills such as cooking, driving or playing cards.
- needing to rely on another person or family member to make simple decisions they would previously have made independently.
Any one of these signs throws up a red flag. However, no single sign or combination necessarily equates with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. What it does mean is that you should consider taking the person with signs of memory disorder for a thorough evaluation by a neurologist, psychiatrist or other medical professional trained in evaluating dementia.
If you notice any disturbing memory or recall issues occurring with a loved one – or yourself – this may possibly be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s itself is a progression, or deterioration of dementia. Approximately 60% – 70% of dementia cases progress into Alzheimer’s. Episodic memory (the ability to link past events into remembered sequences) may start to fail. Or semantic memory (being able to find the right words to compose sentences, or the ability to make lists) may suddenly decline.
When does Alzheimer’s usually set in?
Alzheimer’s is categorized into three types:
1) Late onset: this most commonly affects persons over the age of 65. Almost all (90%) of Alzheimer’s cases fall within tis age group. However, since Alzheimer’s is usually to be seen as a deterioration of dementia, onset of the problem usually begins earlier back than the date of diagnosis.
2) Early onset. The appearance of Alzheimer’s amongst a younger population is much rarer, accounting for about 10% of all cases.
3) FAD: Familial Alzheimer’s disease is found in less than 1% of Alzheimer’s cases. This is the only type with a strict genetic basis, where the condition is passed on over at least two generations.
What to expect in the event of Alzheimer’s in the family.
Alzheimer’s places severe burdens on family members, for obvious reasons. But because the disease affects not only memory and cognitive function, but also personality, mood and perceptual factors, there is a further psychiatric aspect to the condition. For this reason, powerful anti-psychotic or neuroleptic medications are often prescribed by doctors, in an attempt to control hallucinations, violent mood swings or severe insomnia. It is typical in advanced cases of Alzheimer’s, for patients to grow more and more agitated and confused as the day lengthens. This behavior has been termed “sundowning”, as the setting of the sun seems to bring on a kind panic and chaos within these persons’ minds.
What Causes Alzheimer’s
As we have seen, this disease is only rarely attributable to genetic factors alone. So how come we have such an epidemic in our midst? Currently, around 4.5 million people in the US alone suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is categorized as a cortical dementia, meaning that the cerebral cortex, or “main brain” portion is affected, disabling language and memory skills. We know that the disease causes a serious reduction in the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter required for alertness, reasoning, memory and overall awareness and focus. What causes this decline in acetylcholine? It appears that multiple toxins accumulating over a lifetime within the body culminate in a destruction of cells responsible for secreting or synthesizing acetylcholine. Toxic build up may also lead to an overstimulation of of NMDA receptors, which has an adverse effect on the health of brain cells.
More recently, Alzheimer’s has been called Diabetes Type 3. The underlying causes of Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 and Alzheimer’s have shown much in common: disruption of seven key systems of the body by poor nutritional intake, environmental or dietary toxins, chronic infections leading to a state of chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, drastic weakening of the mitochondria, low levels of cellular glutathione, hormonal disturbances and a fatty liver unable to detoxify properly or produce. And last but not least, mental or emotional stress and poor use of deep breathing and relaxation to rebalance the nervous system. All these factors contribute both to the development of Diabetes Type 2, and to Alzheimer’s itself, which can be understood as a more advanced version of the same disease syndrome.
What happens in the end?
In the early stages, memory, language and cognitive function decline. As the disease progresses, the capacity to recognize others disappears, and behavior may become extremely agitated and bizarre. During later stages, the person stops talking altogether and becomes basically mute.