Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

Thanks to Maria Shriver and her groundbreaking Shriver Report, we’ve learned about how Alzheimer’s disease affects women in the United States, both as victims of the disease and caregivers to those suffering from the disease.  And while its important to understand Alzheimer’s emotional, sociological, and economic implications, we also need to understand the disease itself and how it impacts the human brain and body.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease “is a brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.” Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a broad term for loss of memory and thinking ability. It’s important to remember, however, that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not the only cause of memory loss. If you are experiencing loss of memory or difficulty performing daily tasks, consult your doctor promptly.

Although doctors and scientists are still researching exactly how Alzheimer’s works, we do know that Alzheimer’s progresses slowly, and small, gradual changes occur years before noticeable memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease most likely prevents parts of individual brain cells from operating and communicating with other brain cells properly.  Damaged brain cells eventually become nonfunctional and die.  Plaques and tangles are also likely causes of communication blockage between brain cells. Plaques refer to protein build up in the space between the brain cells, and tangles are protein fibers that grow inside the cells.

The Alzheimer’s Association has also identified ten early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Memory loss that interferes with daily life: forgetting important events, asking repeatedly for the same information, or relying on others for memory.
  • Difficulty solving problems or planning: difficulty working with numbers, developing plans, following instructions, or paying bills.
  • Reduced ability to complete routine tasks: forgetting how to drive from place to place, complete household chores, or solve a crossword puzzle, for example.
  • Losing track of dates and places: forgetting current date, time, season, or current location.
  • Impaired ability to comprehend visual images and relationships: includes difficulty reading, identifying colors, or reduced depth perception.
  • Misplacing belongings and inability to retrace steps.
  • Expressing poor judgment and inability to make decisions.
  • Retreating from work, hobbies, and social activities.
  • Significant mood changes: often includes confusion, suspicion, depression, and anxiety.

If you experience any of these symptoms or know someone who seems to be exhibiting these symptoms, seek professional help right away. For more information visit, www.alz.org.

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