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What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

More than 6 million Americans live with the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and while there's no cure for the condition, early diagnosis can help those who develop it maintain a higher quality of life. In honor of Alzheimer's Awareness Month, this post introduces you to what Alzheimer's is and explains how it's different from dementia. Then, you'll learn what warning signs to look out for and what to do if you observe them in a loved one.

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a brain disease that affects a person's ability to remember, think, learn and employ organizational skills. The condition is progressive, meaning that its symptoms worsen over time. People with advanced Alzheimer's often struggle to perform daily living tasks, such as eating, bathing, grooming and dressing on their own.

The risk for Alzheimer's disease increases with age, and 90% of individuals who have the condition are diagnosed after age 65. Researchers are still working to determine what causes Alzheimer's, but it's believed that a combination of age-related changes in the brain, genetics and environment contribute to the disease.

Alzheimer's Versus Dementia

Some people use the terms "Alzheimer's" and "dementia" interchangeably, but the terms don't really refer to the exact same thing. Dementia is a broad term that describes difficulties with mental functioning. To be diagnosed with dementia, a person must typically experience changes in two or more of the following categories:

  • Memory
  • Reasoning
  • Language
  • Understanding visual forms and spatial relationships
  • Behavior and personality 

Alzheimer's is a distinct disease that usually begins with minor cognitive impairment. During later stages, a person with the condition may develop dementia. In fact, dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80% of cases.

Signs of Alzheimer's

As previously mentioned, early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease tend to be mild. They can include:

  • Repeatedly making the same statements or asking the same questions
  • Forgetting entire conversations, events or appointments
  • Frequently misplacing items and putting them in places that are illogical
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Struggling to find the right words to describe objects or express thoughts and feelings
  • Finding it difficult to multitask
  • Exhibiting a declining ability to make good decisions, such as wearing the wrong clothes for the weather
  • Withdrawing from work and social activities
  • Exhibiting changes in personality and mood, such as irritability, depression, anxiousness and suspicion

What to Do if a Loved One Exhibits Symptoms of Alzheimer's

If your loved one is exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, consult a health care provider promptly. A doctor can discuss symptoms with your loved one, conduct a physical exam and order tests to determine if they have Alzheimer's disease. 

Getting a diagnosis early can benefit your loved one by allowing them to try medications and other treatments that may slow the progression of symptoms. The earlier you learn your loved one has Alzheimer's disease, the more time you have to plan for their future care as well. 

As the disease progresses, your loved one will likely require more and more assistance and may benefit from the around-the-clock support provided by a Memory Care neighborhood, such as the one available at Aberdeen Heights in Kirkwood, Missouri. Beginning to explore care options while your loved one is still able to be independent makes the process less stressful for everyone. Your loved one may even be able to provide input and participate in the decision-making when you're able to begin planning early. 

Support for You and Your Loved One

Aberdeen Heights is a continuing care community offering Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care and Long-Term Care. Our Memory Care neighborhood provides a safe, secure and nurturing environment for people with Alzheimer's disease, and our team of compassionate, knowledgeable caregivers is here to support your loved one and the rest of your family. Contact us today to learn more about our amenities and to schedule a tour.

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