Although one out of three Americans knows of someone with Alzheimer's disease (AD), the vast majority understands little about the disease and shows scant interest in learning. Before the disease struck my husband, I was no different. After all, what's a little forgetfulness? Yet, Alzheimer's is not just a simple matter of forgetting something and then remembering it later when reminded. In AD, brain cells controlling specific actions are damaged or die off, causing memories to be lost irretrievably. So if you forget where you left your car keys, but later find them, that's just a sign of being distracted, and it's normal. But if you have your car keys and cannot remember what they are for, then you should see a doctor. It may or may not be AD, and depending on the cause, some memory loss can be reversed, especially if it is treated early. Be alert for these 10 symptoms of Alzheimer's disease: Memory loss: We all forget things sometimes, but then remember them later. But AD patients will not remember later, nor even remember that they forgot in the first place. Difficulty performing familiar tasks: Ordinary things that were before always done automatically now become impossible. AD victims may forget how to use a fork or spoon, how to operate household appliances, or how to participate in lifelong hobbies. Problems with language: Words elude AD patients, and they often use an incorrect, but close, word. "Car" becomes "bus." A toothbrush is "that thing for my mouth." The "computer" is a "phone." A "flower" is the "lawn."Disorientation about time and place: AD sufferers are easily lost, especially when driving alone. They cannot find the bathroom in their own homes. Often they do now know where they are, how they got there, or how to get back home.Poor or decreased judgment: Those who have AD often dress inappropriately for the weather, wear two or three shirts over pajamas, or underwear over street clothes. They give away large sums of money, especially to telemarketers or someone on TV.Problems with abstract thinking: Numbers lose their value, so AD sufferers may forget how to make change or balance a checkbook. Misplacing things: Things are often "hidden" and impossible to find. Other people are frequently accused of stealing missing items.Changes in mood or behavior: AD patients can swing from happy to sad, rapidly and for no apparent reason.Changes in personality: AD sufferers may become suspicious and fearful. They may turn dependent, usually upon the one person who is closest to them.Loss of initiative: Patients often become very passive, unable or unwilling to do normal activities, or sleeping the time away. If any of this is familiar, see a doctor as soon as possible. However, not every physician can recognize the disease. If you are unhappy with one doctor's treatment, get a second or third opinion. Try to find a geriatrics doctor or a neurologist, as they often have more training and experience with the elderly or with brain conditions.
A diagnosis of "probable" Alzheimer's is confusing and terrifying. How can it be "probable"? It either is or it isn't -- isn't it? While AD is usually diagnosed by eliminating everything else that may be causing the symptoms, that diagnosis is only accurate about 85 percent of the time. AD can only be 100 percent verified through a brain biopsy during autopsy, hence the "probable" qualifier. There is, so far, no cure and no prevention.
This is not to say that all hope is lost. Most of the time AD is very slow-progressing, and there are usually many, many years of happy, normal living after diagnosis. The average lifetime after diagnosis is usually seven years, but others have lived for 25 years or more.
Betty Weiss is the author of When the Doctor Says 'Alzheimer's': Your Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's and Dementia (AuthorHouse, 2004) and Alzheimer's Surgery: An Intimate Portrait (AuthorHouse, 2006).
Source: Health & Wellness