- By destroying brain cells, Alzheimer's affects long- and short-term memory loss, cognitive thinking skills and behavior. As Alzheimer's progresses, it causes a decreased ability to work and perform daily routines, increasing memory loss and a loss in social function. Life expectancy for Alzheimer's patients is approximately six years from diagnosis.
- Distinguishing the difference from everyday forgetfulness is one step in determining Alzheimer's. Normal memory loss will be forgetting parts of something. Alzheimer's memory loss will be forgetting the complete circumstance or event, whether it is short term or long term. Symptoms of Alzheimer's include learning difficulties, disorientation, problems with speaking and forming words, memory loss, personality changes and a decline in the ability to perform routine daily tasks.
- Alzheimer's begins slowly, so it is often ignored as simple forgetfulness. As time passes, simple daily tasks begin to be affected. For example, Alzheimer's patients will forget how to tie shoes, brush their teeth and mispronounce words. Severe mood swings or personality changes will be noticeable. A daily diary is beneficial to the physician. Recording changes, mood swings, eating habits, and overall memory and language functions helps the physician determine the progression of the disease. The pace of the progression will be different in each patient. Some have a very rapid progression while others will see a gradual progression.
- A physician will perform a series of tests in diagnosing Alzheimer's; however, a firm diagnosis cannot be concluded until after death and the brain tissue is analyzed. Brain tissue dies as the disease progresses, which causes the symptoms of Alzheimer's. A complete health evaluation, blood tests, X-rays and neurological testing will be performed and other conditions will be ruled out by the testing.
- As time passes, Alzheimer's patients will lose the ability to take care of themselves and will eventually become bedridden. Increased stress levels have been noticed in family members who care for Alzheimer's patients due to the constant care that is required. Alzheimer's patients can inexplicably get in a car to drive not knowing where they are going or why. Others will simply walk off.
- Ongoing treatment studies for Alzheimer's are being performed. New medicines are continually being studied and tested that may stop the progression of the disease. Prescription medicines and vitamin E help in slowing the disease process down but will not stop it altogether. It's important to keep the surroundings familiar for the Alzheimer's patient to avoid unnecessary agitation and fear. A healthy diet helps in keeping the body regulated, which will, in turn, help in memory function. Counseling for the patient as well as the family is important in order to understand the disease and its progression. The Alzheimer's patient will need to express what his final wishes are at the time of diagnosis before the memory loss becomes too severe.