What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia. Dementia literally means “deprived of mind”. Dementia refers to a syndrome of progressive memory impairment and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Symptoms begin slowly. Early symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be ‘age-related’ concerns, but are not a normal part of aging. In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, people may have trouble remembering recent events, activities, confusion with time or place, or the names of familiar people or things. Over a number of years, the disease worsens as it progresses. As the disease progresses, symptoms are more easily noticed and become serious enough to cause individuals with AD or their family members to seek medical help. To date, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s?

While no two people progress at the same rate or share the same pattern, there are some characteristic patterns and changes common to stages of Alzheimer’s. Understanding and knowing these characteristic stages can help promote better caring and quality of life. There are three stages of Alzheimer’s disease referred to as early, middle and late. These are just a partial list of symptoms and stages related to Alzheimer’s and its progression.

Mild or Early stage usually last 2-4 years and is characterized by frequent recent memory loss, particularly of recent conversations and events, repeated questions, some problems expressing and understanding language, and difficulty with writing and using objects.

Moderate or Middle stage can range from 2-10 years and is characterized by a marked increase in similar early stage characteristics. Loss of cognition increases to pervasive and persistent memory loss, including forgetfulness about personal history and inability to recognize friends and family, rambling and confused speech, unusual reasoning, confusion about current events, sleep disturbances, changes in mood and behavior, which can be aggravated by stress and change, and a need for help/assistance with activities of daily living.

Severe or Late stage is typically shorter in duration from 1-3 years. It is marked by a loss of ability to remember, communicate, or process information, a severe to total loss of verbal skills, problems with swallowing, incontinence, immobility, extreme behavior changes, and a need for round the clock care.

In addition to the three stages of Alzheimer’s, your doctor may also use a diagnostic framework developed by Barry Reisberg, M.D., clinical director of the New York University School of Medicine’s Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center known as the Global Deterioration Scale. This scale breaks Alzheimer’s disease into 7 stages. Stages 1-3 are considered pre-dementia stages; stages 4-7 are the dementia stages. Beginning in stage 5 an individual can no longer survive without assistance.

Other Dementias

Delirium or Acute Confusional State is a common and severe neuropsychiatric syndrome involving fluctuating mental function and disturbances of consciousness, attention, and cognition. Delirium itself is not a disease, but a syndrome which result from an underlying disease. It is often caused by a disease process outside the brain, such as infection (common urinary tract infection UTI), or drug effects.

Huntington’s disease or Huntington’s Chorea is a hereditary disorder involving early stage cognitive changes and memory impairment, also characterized by involuntary movements (chorea) of the face and upper extremities.

Lewy body dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s, including problems with memory and judgment, but are more likely to have early symptoms such as sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and muscle rigidity.

Multi-infarct dementia (MID) or Vascular dementia is a type of dementia caused by multiple small strokes. It occurs because of brain injuries such as microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage. Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that involves movement problems and dementia (often developing in the later stages of the disease). Thinking processes may be delayed or slowed, but unlike Alzheimer’s, a person with Parkinson’s, given time will be able to remember and reason.

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