is Alzheimer's Disease?
Disease is defined as a progressive, degenerative disease
that attacks the brain and impacts memory, thinking,
and behavior. It is the most common form of dementia.
Dementias affect people's memory, thinking ability,
their ability to care for their daily activities of
living. Alzheimer's disease ultimately results in death
and is the fourth leading cause of death in adults.
The leading three causes of death in adults are heart
disease, cancer, and stroke. Alzheimer's usually occurs
in persons 65 years of age or older but can begin when
people are in their 40s or 50s.
of Alzheimer's disease include forgetfulness, decreased
capacity to manage daily activities of living such as
bathing, dressing, shopping, meal preparation, medication
management, bill paying, etc. There can be personality
changes including reclusive ness, paranoia, and aggressiveness.
Frequently persons with Alzheimer's disease are disoriented,
have trouble with language skills, and lose the ability
to use good judgment, follow steps, and problem solve.
progression of the disease varies from person to person
but the average time from onset to death is eight years.
This is just an average range and the span between onset
to death has been as little as three years and as long
as twenty years. Some warning signs include:
memory loss that affects job skills or ability to
performing familiar tasks
regarding time and place
with abstract reasoning
in mood and/or behavior
is extremely important to note that sudden onset of
any or all of the above symptoms might reflect some
reversible medical trauma the individual is suffering.
This can be as simple as a urinary tract infection,
side effects or a new medication, the body's reaction
to the trauma of a fall. Therefore the first course
of action is to get immediate medical attention to see
if there is a treatable, reversible medical event going
Alzheimer's disease continues to be elusive. A detailed
medical evaluation must take place and should include:
mental status assessments
thorough physical examination.
diagnosis is usually arrived at by first ruling out
all other possible causes however confirmation of the
diagnosis requires examination of brain tissue which
is done by autopsy.
are no treatments to "cure" Alzheimer's disease.
There are medications that can slow the progression.
There are interventions that can be developed to deal
with physical, mental, and behavioral changes. There
is advance planning that can take place in the form
of getting final affairs in order while the Alzheimer's
victim can still execute legal documents such as Power
of Attorney, Health Care Power or Attorney, Living Will.
the caregivers and family is an important step in coping
with the changes that are occurring. Dealing with difficult
behaviors, maintaining a calm, comfortable routine,
how to include social activities and maintain adequate
hygiene and nutrition are all important skills that
must be learned.
people find adult day programs to be an excellent source
of specialized socialization. Raleigh has even developed
a Saturday and evening program (for people who become
restless and wander and pace as the night hours approach).
you hear people talk about the "stages" of
Alzheimer's disease the following provides a brief summary:
Stage (2-4 years leading up to and including
forgetfulness; difficulty with routine chores
regarding directions, decisions, and money management
of spontaneity and initiative
actions and statements
personality, and judgment changes
of time and place
if bills are paid
things and/or forgets they are lost
at the wrong place and/or the wrong time
frequently called phone number
Stage: (2 - 10 years - the longest stage)
memory loss, confusion, and shorter attention span
recognizing close friends and/or family
especially in late afternoon or evening
muscle twitching or jerking
organizing thoughts or logical thinking
see or hear things that are not there
often - awakens frequently at night and may get
up and wander (Sundowner's syndrome)
motor problems - difficulty getting into a chair,
setting the table
read signs, write name, and or subtract
- may accuse people of hiding things or of infidelity
of impulse control - may undress at inappropriate
times or places. May use offensive language.
appetite for junk food - forgets when last meal
was eaten; may lose interest in eating
Stage: (1-3 years)
to recognize family members or self
of weight even with appropriate diet
to care for personal needs
to put everything in their mouth; compulsion for
and bladder incontinence
experience difficulty swallowing, skin breakdown,
infections, or seizures
in mirror and talks to own image
total care with bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting
groan, scream, or make grunting noises
more, becomes comatose ending in death
continues into the causes of Alzheimer's disease.
University Hospital in Durham, N.C. is a very active
research center and has the latest information.
Family Support program (919) 660-7510.
Geriatric Evaluation and Treatment Clinic (919) 620-4070.
Neurological Disorders Clinic - (919) 668-7600.
Health Care in Chapel Hill also offers a Geriatric
Evaluation and Treatment Clinic. They can be reached
by calling (919) 966-5945.
Alzheimer's Association has a wealth of printed
materials, support groups, resource rooms, counseling,
and teaching. To find an office near you contact:
National Office at 1-800-272-3900
The Eastern North Carolina Chapter at (919) 832-3732.
Alzheimer's Association developed the Safe
Return Program for persons with Alzheimer's disease.
People register with their National Safe Return Program
and receive identifying jewelry or clothing labels for
the loved one to wear in the event they wander and get
information can be obtained from the National Office
or Eastern North Carolina Chapter referenced above.