Green Line Senior Care

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WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?


Alzheimer’s disease is the most severe and common form of Dementia, and is highly prevalent in seniors. It is a progressive neurological disorder, which is caused by the death of brain cells that leads to cognitive decline and memory loss. There is no known cure for this disease and the situation worsens as time passes by.

The disease derives its name from the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, who first described it in his first report in 1906.

 

It’s a progressive brain disease that on early stages manifests itself as minor cognitive problems, such forgetfulness as well as language problems (such as shrinking vocabulary). There are some common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, but it is important to remember that everyone is unique. Two people with Alzheimer's are unlikely to experience the condition in exactly the same way. 


Gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop, and they also become more severe. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are generally mild to start with, but they get worse over time, and start to interfere with daily life as the condition progresses. The person may:


  • Lose items (keys, glasses) around the house
  • Struggle to find the right word in a conversation or forget someone's name
  • Forget about recent conversations or events
  • Get lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
  • Forget appointments or anniversaries.
  • Have difficulty recalling recent events and learning new information.

 

These symptoms occur because the early damage in Alzheimer's is usually to a part of the brain called the hippo campus, which has a central role in day-to-day memory. Memory for life events that happened a long time ago is often unaffected in the early stages of the disease.

Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can include:


  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Speech trouble


Patients with the disease will also have, or go on to develop problems with other aspects of thinking, reasoning, perception or communication.

They might have difficulties with:


  • Language – struggling to follow a conversation or repeating themselves
  • Visuospatial skills - problems judging distance or seeing objects in three dimensions; navigating stairs or parking the car become much harder
  • Concentrating, planning or organizing, difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (cooking a meal)
  • Orientation – becoming confused or losing track of the day or date.


Problems with Speaking and Writing

Onset of Alzheimer’s also makes people forget entire conversations. They might stop abruptly at the middle of a conversation and have no idea about what to say next. They face difficulty staying on the topic, which leads to increased frustration. They might have problem finding the right words and might face trouble in explaining a thought or concept.

Many people become withdrawn and lose interest in activities and hobbies.


The minor cognitive problems that mark the early stages of the illness gradually become major cognitive problems during its mid-stages: loss of reading, and writing skills, difficulty with complex motor tasks, and loss of previously intact long-term memories. It is also more common at this stage to see changes in behavior and personality. Many with Alzheimer's experience sun downing, or increased confusion and unrest in the evening. Mood swings which begin with occasional depression and sadness can gradually turn to violent phases of rage, crying and anger without any reason. Patients become upset easily and are always fearful, anxious, confused or depressed. This is caused by the chemical changes in brain as a result of the disease, and the gradual loss of cognitive abilities.


Some patients start to believe things that are untrue (delusions), or less often see or hear things, which are not really there (hallucinations).

Many individuals with Alzheimer's also develop behaviors that seem unusual or out of character. These include agitation (restlessness or pacing), calling out, repeating the same question, disturbed sleep patterns or reacting aggressively. Such behaviors can be distressing or challenging for the person and their families. 

 

In its late stages, patients will have very reduced language capabilities, severe memory problems, lose their ability to perform key functions such as:


  • Swallowing
  • Walking
  • Eating
  • Recognize their loved ones
  • Controlling bladder and bowels


In this stage patients may become much less aware of what is happening around them. Behavioral changes are generally manifested as apathy and inactivity. They may become increasingly frail. Eventually, the person will need help with all their daily activities, and require separate treatment and management.


Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

Although the exact causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s is not yet known, it is mainly caused by genetic disorders, an unhealthy life style, and external environmental factors. The main reason for dementia and Alzheimer’s is rapid brain cell death, which reduces the connectivity among the brain cells thus leading to brain shrinkage. Abnormal amounts of plaques and tangles are commonly found in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients which plays a role in worsening the condition.


Amyloid Plaques

These plaques are composed of protein beta-amyloid that deposits outside the brain cells and reduce the effectiveness of the brain cells or neurons in transferring messages to and from the brain.

Tangles

Tangles or tau tangles are threads of tau protein. Tau protein is required by the brain cells to support the transportation of nutrients. But these protein threads twist in to tangles in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients that hinder the flow of messages from the  brain and leads to death of brain cells. 



Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care

Seniors who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or progressive Dementia should not enjoy a decent quality of life without support of loving relatives, but Alzheimer’s is a hard burden for a family. They often pay a high toll for their labor of love, reporting high levels of stress and sadness, and also increased health problems.


When Alzheimer’s is highly advanced, informal care by family caregivers is usually not sufficient. Alzheimer’s patients will usually eventually require dedicated care from hardworking caregivers, who take care for patients, keeping them, first of all, safe from hazard such as wandering, competent physicians, and professional senior care providers.




HOW TO PREVENT THE RISK OF ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?

Healthy Diet

The most important preventive measure to minimize the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s is to nourish the brain and keep it healthy with essential nutrients. This can be done by increasing the intake of antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals through fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy. Eat lots of whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Green leafy and brightly colored vegetables and berries are especially helpful in maintaining and improving cognitive functions. Load up on omega 3 with cold water fish such as tuna, mackerel, trout and sardine. Also include 3 to 4 cups of green tea in your daily diet. The  benefits of green tea antioxidants are numerous. 


Regular Physical Activity

It is extremely important to keep your body up and running in order to reduce the risk of dementia. Research shows that regular physical activity cuts out the risk of Alzheimer’s by almost 50% and also helps in slowing down the progress of the disease in persons already affected. Plan out an exercise regime that suites you and stick to it religiously. Try to do at least 30 minutes of cardio exercises such as brisk walking or swimming 4 to 5 times a week. It not only pumps up the heart rate and improves cardiovascular health, but also aids in proper functions of the brain.


Improve Cardiovascular Health

Recent research has shown that one can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the risk of heart diseases. Researchers have found a link between brain and heart health and some of the factors such as high blood pressure high blood cholesterol, diabetes and excess body weight that lead to heart disease may also push up the risk of Alzheimer’s. Therefore, it is  important to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and prevent chronic diseases through a healthy diet and regular exercise.


Have Active Social Life

People tend to avoid social activities, social gatherings and friends as they age and this also affects the brain because human beings are social creatures and human brain cannot thrive in isolation. Therefore, make it a point to stay connected with family and friends, develop new connections, talk to loved ones over phone frequently, spend time with neighbors and join a club.


Engage in Intellectual Activity

Learning new things or playing strategy games such as chess, cross word puzzles, scrabble and Sudoku stimulates the brain and keeps it active and reduces the risk of cognitive decline. Learning new things like a musical instrument or taking up a new hobby keeps throwing fresh challenges to the brain and keeps it active.


Have Quality Sleep

The  importance of sleep for our health needs no new emphasis. One of the worst outcomes of present hectic life style is sleep deprivation that not only results in stress, bad mood and tiredness, but might lead to declined cognitive functions as a long term result. Therefore, it is important to get at least 8 hours of unhindered, restful sleep on a daily basis. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day in order to keep the circadian rhythm consistent. Relax your senses and take a hot bath before going to bed.


Limit the Intake of Sugar and Refined Foods

Excessive production of insulin by the pancreas has negative effects on the brain. The secretion of insulin can be managed by keeping blood sugar levels under control and avoiding the consumption of refined sugar and high glycemic foods such as white flour bread, white flour pasta and white rice. Consume complex carbohydrate with low glycemic index instead such as oats, whole grains, brown rice, vegetables and fruits that take time to break down, thus preventing sudden fluctuation in blood sugar levels.


Control Stress

Yet another negative aspect of modern life style is stress. Stress can be at work or due to personal problems but chronic stress and anxiety can have disastrous effects on the brain, specifically hippocampus, which hinders the growth of brain cells and increases the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Try to control stress and bring about inner peace through meditation and relaxing exercises like yoga or Tai-chi.  


Bring these healthy changes in your life style and make your loved ones aware about this disease and its preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.