There is so much that encompasses the topic of Alzheimer's. It may be helpful to get a general overview of things before getting into specifics. This page will help you do that. Provided by the Duke Family Support Program, this page offers part of what is offered in their Tool Kit for Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers.
We'll briefly discuss:
- It May be Alzheimer's if the Person has Trouble With...
- How is Alzheimer's Disease Different From Normal Aging?
- When to Seek Help
- How Can You Help the Doctor?
- What Should You Ask the Doctor?
- What Can Be Done to Help Behavior Changes?
Rather than linking to each part, as an overview, it would be more effective to scroll down the entire page to access the information. After reading through this information, we suggest that you return to the Alzheimer's Section Homepage to find out more information on any one topic of interest.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s can include gradual memory loss, decline in the ability to perform routine tasks, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills, impairment of judgment and planning and personality changes. The rate of progression varies from person to person.
The time from the onset of symptoms until death ranges from 3 to 20 years; the average is 8 years. Eventually, persons with Alzheimer’s disease become totally incapable of caring for themselves.
It May be Alzheimer's if the Person has Trouble With...
Learning and retaining new information
Handling complex tasks
Spatial ability and orientation
How is Alzheimer's Disease Different From Normal Aging?
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease involve more than simple lapses in memory. People with Alzheimer’s have difficulties in communicating, learning, thinking and reasoning that can affect their work, social and family life. Alzheimer’s is a disease that destroys brain cells – which is not a normal part of aging.
When to Seek Help
Alzheimer’s or other memory disorders symptoms may develop slowly and go unnoticed for some time. First there is a gradual loss of “what just happened” or recent memory, thinking or reasoning ability. Families begin looking for help when there are changes in daily function or in the person’s ability to manage safely on his/her own.
Consider these 10 items from the Functional Activities Questionnaire (AHRQ, 1996) as indicators that it’s time for a medical evaluation and help from community services.
Note: Dementia is a decline from previous abilities. If the person never did one of these activities, it is not a change indicating a problem.
Early and careful evaluation is important because many conditions, including some that are treatable or reversible, can cause dementia. Potentially reversible conditions include depression, adverse drug reactions, metabolic changes and nutritional deficiencies.
There is no single clinical test to identify Alzheimer’s disease. A comprehensive evaluation to establish diagnosis will include a complete health history, physical examination, neurological exam, and tests including analysis of blood and urine and tests of memory and problem solving. Documenting symptoms and behavior over time, in a diary fashion, will help physicians understand the person’s illness. The physician may order additional tests including brainscans (CT or MRI), psychiatric evaluation, and/or neuropsychological testing. While this evaluation may provide a diagnosis of possible or probable Alzheimer’s disease, confirmation of Alzheimer’s disease requires examination of brain tissue, which is usually done by an autopsy.
Be prepared for an evaluation with a list of current prescribed medicines and doses, and a list of anything the person is taking or doing for his/her health.
Bring a list of signs, symptoms or situations that indicate a change and a decline in the person’s abilities, mood, personality or behavior. For behavior changes, be ready to describe when each behavior started, the frequency of the behavior, the time of day it occurs or what seems to bring it on, and what strategies you have tried already to handle the behavior changes.
What Should You Ask the Doctor?
Although no treatment can stop Alzheimer’s disease, good planning
and medical and social
management can ease the burdens on the patient and family. There are
currently four FDA approved
drug treatments specifically for the memory symptoms: tacrine (Cognex),
donepezil hydrochloride (Aricept), and rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine
(Reminyl). These and other medicines may help with mood, behaviors and
*Alzheimer’s Association, 7/2001
There are ways to treat some of the symptoms.
What Can Be Done to Help Behavior Changes?
At times, people with dementia may have changes in behavior such as wandering, paranoia, suspiciousness, hitting or resistance to help with personal hygiene. The doctor may suggest: