About Memory Loss
Dementia is a general term for loss of memory – similar to heart disease – which covers a variety of particular conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, followed by vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly damages and ultimately destroys brain cells, leading to the loss of memory, thinking skills and even the ability to carry out simple daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is not part of the normal aging process. It develops gradually over time and progressively gets worse. Alzheimer’s is eventually fatal and, presently, there are no treatments that cure the disease.
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Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Memory loss that persists and worsens over time is the fundamental symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. A person with Alzheimer’s may make poor judgments or decisions that are uncharacteristic of them. The disease can also impact a person’s thinking, reasoning and ability to plan and perform even familiar tasks over time. Changes in personality and behavior can also occur, including symptoms such as depression, social withdrawal, distrust, changes in sleeping habits, wandering and more.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown. Two proteins in the brain, plaques and tangles, begin to function abnormally, leading to damaged neurons and eventually cell death.
Vascular dementia occurs due to microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain.
Lewy body dementia is characterized by the abnormal buildup of proteins known as Lewy bodies, named for the scientist who discovered them. This protein is also associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Most experts agree that dementia is a result of multiple genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors over a long period of time. The greatest risk factors are age, family history and genetics.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, changes in memory and cognitive abilities may not be widely noticeable, but close family and friends may pick up on problems. Common difficulties in the early stages may include forgetfulness of recent events, difficulty in handling finances and paying bills, or simply taking longer to complete daily activities.
People with Alzheimer’s disease in the early stages may have trouble coming up with the right word, be forgetful about recent events or lose items and be unable to retrace their steps. They may experience mood or personality changes, especially during socially challenging situations.
The middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease generally last the longest. Damage to the brain is more widespread in the middle stages and affects areas that are responsible for language, reasoning, sensory processing and conscious thought. Gaps in memory and confusion are noticeable, and individuals may require help completing daily tasks.
Those in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease may become confused about what day of the week it is or what time it is. They may begin to have trouble recognizing family and friends or be forgetful of their personal history. Some may need help dressing appropriately for the season or occasion. Individuals may experience changes in sleep patterns. Personality and behavioral changes, such as suspiciousness, repetitive behaviors or wandering, may become more pronounced.
By the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the brain is damaged extensively and symptoms are severe. Individuals in these stages are mostly or completely dependent upon others for their daily activities, such as eating and self-care. They may experience significant personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions.
In the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals cannot communicate appropriately and lose awareness of or ability to react to the environment. Eventually, they may lose the ability to control their movements.
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