Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

For over 30 years, Vantage Point is the area’s only full service Alzheimer’s Disease treatment facility with a complete continuum of psychiatric and behavioral health services for children, adults and seniors.

Understanding Alzheimer's

Learn about Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, leads to substantial deteriorating memory, loss of cognition, and irregular behaviors. Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic disease for which there is no cure; the disease begins with a gradual, progressive decline that eventually becomes significant enough to impair the ability to perform even the simplest activities of daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable disease that slowly leads to the death of the connections between neurons and eventually causes the neurons themselves to deteriorate and die; this cell death is associated with the decline in cognition and memory.

While the greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease is advancing age, this disease is not a normal part of the aging process. Currently Alzheimer’s disease does not have a cure, however, there are pharmacological and psychotherapeutic therapies available to help with both behavioral and cognitive symptoms. The earlier a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the better the outcomes for lasting results. Early diagnosis also allows for patients and families to begin planning for the future.

Statistics

Alzheimer’s disease statistics

Currently in the United States, 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease and every 67 seconds a person is diagnosed with the disorder. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6thleading cause of death in the United States and 1 in every 3 seniors dies from Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for alzheimer’s disease

Experts in the field believe that most people develop Alzheimer’s disease based upon a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors working in tandem. The most commonly cited causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:

Genetic: Many people who develop Alzheimer’s disease have a family history of the disease. People who have a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling with the disease are at greater risk for developing the disease. The more people in the family who have the disease, the more the risk for developing Alzheimer’s grows.  There appears to be two categories of genes that influence the development of Alzheimer’s: risk genes and deterministic genes. Risk genes increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s while deterministic genes are directly responsible for the development of the disease.

Physical: Researchers have identified several characteristic brain abnormalities associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Plaques are microscopic clumps of the beta-amyloid peptide and tangles are microscopic twisted strands of the tau protein. Additionally, the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease are noted to have a loss of communication between the neurons responsible for memory, learning, and communication. In an effort to fend off these abnormal structures, the brain becomes inflamed. Eventually, the brain cells die and the brain tissues shrink.

Environmental: Increasing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, as most people who have Alzheimer’s are age 65 and older. However, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Almost half of the people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s.

Risk Factors:

  • Women are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Lack of social engagement

Protective Factors:

  • Higher levels of formal education
  • Stimulating job
  • Mentally-challenging leisure activities
  • Frequent social interactions

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin slowly with mild forgetfulness or confusion and, over time, the symptoms begin to increase, causing a sudden influx of problematic symptoms. The rate at which a person develops symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will vary from person to person based upon individual genetic makeup, presence of co-occurring disorders, stage of Alzheimer’s disease, and other factors. The most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Difficulties performing familiar tasks
  • Trouble brushing teeth, washing hair, and performing everyday tasks
  • Placing household items in bizarre, unusual places
  • Increasing problems performing tasks that require multiple steps, such as paying bills or creating a shopping list
  • Loss of normal inhibitions
  • Lack of motivation to engage in once-pleasurable activities
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Wandering
  • Decreased ability to perform activities of daily living

Physical Symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep patterns – sleeping more or less than usual, or sleeping during the day while waking at night
  • Decreased ability to feed oneself
  • Increasingly disheveled appearance
  • Increasing challenges with eating – pocketing food, difficulty swallowing

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Short-term memory loss is the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Distrust in other people
  • Trouble recalling recent conversation or events
  • Disorientation
  • Getting lost in familiar areas
  • Trouble with language
  • Inability to recall words for everyday things
  • Increasing problems with planning and organizing events
  • Decreasing ability to communicate or recognize other people

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Extreme periods of anger
  • Decreased ability to smile
  • Violence – self-directed or at others

Effects

Effects of Alzheimer’s disease

The cognitive changes, memory loss, and impaired judgment caused by Alzheimer’s disease can complicate treatment for this disease and other health conditions. The effects and complications of Alzheimer’s disease may include the following:

  • Inability to communicate pain, discomfort, or other symptoms of another disease
  • Inability to follow a treatment plan
  • Inability to report side effects from medication
  • Impaired physical functions, such as difficulty swallowing, impaired balance, and reduced bowel and bladder control.
  • Aspiration pneumonia and lung infections from aspiration of food or liquid
  • Urinary incontinence leading to increased urinary tract infections
  • Injuries from falls

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alzheimer’s disease and co-occurring disorders

There are a number of disorders that may occur with Alzheimer’s disease. The most common comorbid, co-occurring disorders include:

  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis

I had a great experience at this facility. I have been to one other facility in the past and I can really tell the difference. The process starts with a FREE assessment and it was done relatively quickly. The staff were empathetic and seemed to really care about helping me. Once I got on the unit I met with other staff who were equally helpful. I got to meet with my doctor and therapist while here and my stay was actually pretty comfortable. I was especially pleased with the beginning stages as I was desperate for help and I got it quickly. The hospital is open 24/7 and an assessment can be done without an appointment.

– A Former Resident