Alzheimer’s Symptoms, Signs & Effects

What is Alzheimer's

Learn More About Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; a disorder in which people begin to slowly develop problems with their memory, thought patterns, and behaviors. People suffering from Alzheimer’s have increased difficulty in reasoning, planning, and communicating with others. The effects of Alzheimer’s are so intense and severe that they will eventually cause significant impairment in one’s ability to function on a daily basis. The effects also have a negative impact on a person’s relationships and on their work performance. Alzheimer’s disease is known to be a degenerative disorder that continuously affects the brain and gradually worsens as time passes. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, so the sooner treatment is sought, the better. Early treatment allows for usage of certain medications which can help reduce initial symptom severity, however, these medications do not treat the disorder indefinitely.Additionally, early treatment will allow families and loved ones to make decisions for continuing care so  the individual with Alzheimer’s will have his or her needs and wishes known and respected during disease progression.

Statistics

Statistics of Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association states that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50%-80% of all dementia cases. Studies have shown that the likelihood that a person will experience the onset of Alzheimer’s doubles approximately every 5 years between the ages of 65 and 85. The results of these studies showed that while only 1%-2% of people who are 70 years old suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, nearly 40% of individuals who are 85 years old are struggling with the illness.

Furthermore, studies have shown that as the population ages, so does the frequency in which Alzheimer’s begins to present. Scientists have estimated that, unless new treatments are developed, the number of people who will suffer from Alzheimer’s in the United States will jump to around 13.8 million within the next few decades.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s

There is no specific scientific data that supports the presence of any one cause that leads to the development of Alzheimer’s. However, scientists believe that it is a combination of factors that work together over time that affect the brain and eventually lead to the onset of the illness. Some examples of these factors can include:

Genetic: It is believed that genes play a significant role in whether or not someone will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists believe that certain gene mutations are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s and further believe that these mutations are hereditary. They have estimated that people who have a biological parent who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease have a 50% chance of developing the illness themselves.

Physical: People who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have experienced some type of damage to the nerve cells in their brain. This nerve cell damage can occur in several different areas of the brain, which leads people to react differently to the onset of the illness. If someone is suspected of having Alzheimer’s, doctors will perform cognitive tests to assess different aspects of the brain that may have been disturbed by this damage.

Environmental: Professionals in the field continue to study the effects that one’s environment might have on whether or not he or she will experience the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence has been provided that suggests that some lifestyle factors have the potential to lead to the development of the disease, including a lack of exercise, smoking, maintaining a diet that is lacking vegetables and fruits, and having minimal social interactions.

Risk Factors:

  • Increased age (recognized as being the most predominant risk factor)
  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Past head trauma
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Having Down syndrome (it is believed that people who have Down syndrome will develop changes in the brain that lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s by the time they reach age 40)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will vary from person to person depending on how severe the illness is or how long the person has been suffering from the illness. Some examples of different symptoms that a person suffering from Alzheimer’s may exhibit can include:   

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Making irrational accusations towards loved ones
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Having difficulty following instructions
  • Misplacing things
  • Loss of social skills
  • Requiring assistance to perform tasks
  • Decreased ability to communicate properly
  • Inappropriate behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired motor functioning
  • Poor balance

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Frequent and significant memory loss
  • Extreme confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Decreased ability to focus
  • Impaired reasoning and judgment
  • Loss of object recognition

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood changes that are unusual for the individual
  • Paranoia
  • Increased agitation
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of initiative

Effects

Effects of Alzheimer’s

The effects that Alzheimer’s disease has on a person can be devastating, both for the individual and for his or her family and loved ones. Because it is a progressive disease, the effects continue to get worse as time goes by. Some examples of these effects can include:

  • Permanent memory loss
  • Being unable to recognize loved ones
  • Disorientation of place and time
  • Language struggles
  • Social withdrawal / isolation
  • Extreme personality changes
  • No longer being able to perform tasks without assistance

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders of Alzheimer’s

There are a number of different mental disorders that can occur alongside Alzheimer’s disease. Examples of these disorders can include, but are not limited to:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse disorders

When my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I felt lost, alone, and fearful for the future. Fortunately, caring and compassionate staff at Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry was able to help. I am thankful to the staff at OHP and now feel more prepared and hopeful for what the future has in store for us.

– Shannah H.