Everyone can have lapses in memory from time to time, and there is normal forgetfulness when you are preoccupied with stress, worry, or even excitement. But it is the persistence of memory loss, and noticing when it becomes disruptive to everyday life that is key to determining when it may be time to get help. Could it be Alzheimer’s?
November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month, so to raise advocacy on the condition, here are some symptoms from the Alzheimer's Association website to watch out for in yourself or someone close to you:
•Memory loss that disrupts daily life
•Challenges in planning or solving problems
•Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or in leisure
•Confusion with time or place
•Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
•New problems with words in speaking or writing
•Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
•Decreased or poor judgment
•Withdrawal from work or social activities
•Change in mood and personality
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms may come on slowly and increasingly get worse until it begins to interfere with everyday life. If you think you or someone close to you may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to set up a visit with a doctor to get diagnosed and treated. It may not be Alzheimer's, but a different condition that could be causing problems. In the event it is Alzheimer's, some questions you may want to discuss with your doctor might include:
- What causes Alzheimer’s? Excessive brain cell failure is the known cause for Alzheimer’s, but it is unknown why brain cells fail. Risk factors for developing the condition include advancing age (usually over 65, but it can also occur earlier), and heredity.
- How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed? It may be tough to know when it’s time to get help, but the sooner dementia and Alzheimer’s is able to be diagnosed, the sooner a patient can receive treatment to help improve her quality of life. A specialist like a neurologist, psychiatrist, or psychologist can usually pinpoint Alzheimer’s with 90 percent accuracy, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The doctor may ask diagnostic questions about symptoms, duration, persistence, and severity, in addition to asking the patient questions to determine their mental function to determine if it could be Alzheimer’s. A doctor may also perform neurological testing, brain imaging, or tests to assess if a separate condition could be causing problems with brain function.
- Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease? Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, however treatment can improve quality of life, and ongoing research has shown hope of a future with better drugs to treat symptoms, and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) blood products to treat and possibly prevent the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s.
- How is Alzheimer’s treated? Because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, doctors work to improve quality of life by lessening symptoms related to the condition such as sleeplessness, anxiety, wandering, agitation, and depression. Medications a doctor may prescribe could include cholinesterase inhibitors, and memantine.
- What can be done to make things easier at home? A healthy lifestyle, including eating right, exercising your body and brain, and keeping a daily diary of tasks, events and engagements may help prevent or postpone the development of Alzheimer’s.
- Are there any alternative medicines to help fight Alzheimer’s? Some supplements have been touted to help slow the progression of memory problems, such as vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A. It is good to note that all of these may run the risk of possibly dangerous (sometimes toxic) side effects, and they should be used only with direction from your doctor, or a licensed health care professional who is aware of other medications you are taking and your complete health history.
- What support is there for someone with Alzheimer’s and/or caretakers of patients of Alzheimer’s?
The Alzheimer’s Association has great resources for those with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers. EmpowHER also has information and groups to help answer questions you may have. Your doctor may also suggest favorite reputable website, or support groups in your area.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your doctor. Talk with your team of doctors to get the full picture for your particular case.
www.mayoclinic.com Alzheimer’s disease
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus Alzheimer’s disease
www.alz.org Alzheimer’s disease
www.medscape.com “IVIG Shows Ventricular Enlargement, Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s” by Susan Jeffrey
Do you have a question about Alzheimer’s disease? Check out EmpowHER’s page. Sign-up, post a question, share your story, connect with other women in our community and feel EmpowHERed!
Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.