There are many signs of Alzheimer’s which we ignore because we don’t know about them. It develops at a slow rate and we may never know about it. According to National Family Caregiver Alliance’s (NFCA) Deborah Halpern, this disease develops too slowly for us to notice it. It is something you can compare Alzheimer’s development to what Carl Sandberg calls in his poem – “comes on little cat feet.”
Unfortunately, we are least likely to differentiate it from the normal age-based changes taking place in our body. The key is to already know the signs so that you can distinguish between dementia and normal process of aging. It is normal for us to lose our keys. But if you have dementia, when you find your keys you will not know what to do with them.
Signs of Alzheimer’s That Everyone Ignores
1. Memory loss. It’s normal to forget names occasionally. People with Alzheimer’s forget more and more over time.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. It’s normal to occasionally forget why you walked into a room. People with Alzheimer’s forget how to button shirts.
3. Problems with language. Everyone occasionally has trouble finding the right word. People with Alzheimer’s lose an increasing number of words and become hard to understand.
4. Disorientation. Anyone can feel disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings. People with Alzheimer’s become lost on familiar turf.
5. Socially inappropriate behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is not only about memory problems; it also affects a person’s ability to function day-to-day. It can cause difficulty performing familiar, pre-programmed tasks like dressing or bathing; misplacing items more frequently; becoming lost while walking or driving; and loss of interest in important responsibilities, such as paying bills. The concern is not so much if someone forgets where the car keys are, but if the person does not know what the keys are used for. For pre-retirees, symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease often first become noticeable in the work environment. A supervisor, for example, might note that the person is unable to concentrate, can no longer multi-task or is performing at a lower level than in the past.
6. Problems reasoning. Anyone can have trouble balancing a checkbook. People with Alzheimer’s forget what checks are for.
7. Seriously misplacing things. Anyone can misplace keys. People with Alzheimer’s do things like put them in the freezer.
8. Mood changes. It is not abnormal to have your mood change once or twice a day. But those with Alzheimer’s can suffer from continuous mood swings. They are calm now and full of rage the very next moment and without any reason.
9. Passive. It is normal to feel emotional when watching the TV. But those suffering from Alzheimer’s are excessively passive. They may even stop doing things they have always enjoyed doing.
10. Significant Changes in Personality. We all change with time. But we still hold onto many of our traits which are easy to recognize. But those suffering from Alzheimer’s can change altogether.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Many people feel fatalistic about Alzheimer’s because the best-known risk factors—age, family history, and certain genetic markers—can’t be changed. Meanwhile, the best publicized way to reduce risk is to engage in mind-stimulating activities. “Mental stimulation is important,” says Maria Carrillo, PhD, director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. “But the research shows an important connection between brain health and heart health.”
It’s poorly publicized but true: Everything that raises risk for cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) also raises risk of Alzheimer’s. And everything that reduces cardiovascular risk helps prevent Alzheimer’s, according to recent research.
Smoking – After studying almost 6,900 people of age 55 and above for 24 months, Dutch researchers have come to the following conclusion – Smokers have double the chance of developing Alzheimer’s compared to nonsmokers.
High Levels of Cholesterol – When researchers in Scandinavia studied 1,449 people for more than 21 years, they made the following discovery – higher cholesterol levels in midlife increased the chances of Alzheimer’s in later life.
High Blood Pressure – Similar study in Scandinavia found that those with higher blood pressure in midlife were twice as likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s when they aged.
Diabetes – Researchers in Sweden studied and tested cognitive function of over 1,300 aged people over 6 years. They found that presence of diabetes had a significant impact on Alzheimer’s risk.
Obesity – Another study in Scandinavia showed that the presence of obesity in midlife increased the chances of Alzheimer’s in later life by two times.
Exercise – This is not a risk factor, but something that can help reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. According to a study in Scandinavia, exercise or any kind of physical activity two times a week can have a big impact on reducing Alzheimer’s risk.
Animal Fat – According to a study in Scandinavia, those who took diets rich in saturated fat are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Alcohol – Researchers at the University of Columbia studied almost 1,000 people of 65 and above for 4 years. They found that those who took 3 or less glasses of wine daily significantly reduced the chances of Alzheimer’s.
Mediterranean Diet – This diet contains high amount of fruits and veggies and less of saturated fats, especially compared to American diet. Researchers at University of Columbia compared the diet of over 2,000 people (including those suffering from Alzheimer’s) and found that those who took Mediterranean diet were at very small risk of developing the disease.
Dietary Antioxidants – In a 6-year study covering almost 5,300 people (of 55 and above) in Holland, researchers found that taking high levels of vitamin C and vitamin E helped in reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidant Supplementation – In another 5-year study covering more than 4,700 elderly in Utah, researchers at Johns Hopkins found that those who took vitamin C and vitamin E supplementation reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s. Make sure that your antioxidants have dietary origins.
Alternative Therapies for Alzheimer’s
No known treatment reverses Alzheimer’s disease. However, many studies show that alternative therapies work as well as pharmaceuticals to slow cognitive decline and treat the agitation and aggression many sufferers experience.
Ginkgo. Ten years ago, a highly publicized study showed that ginkgo (120 mg/day) significantly slows the mental decline of people with Alzheimer’s. That finding has been confirmed by many other studies. “In one,” says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas, the nation’s premier herb-education organization, “ginkgo slowed cognitive decline as well as a standard pharmaceutical treatment.”
Huperzine – A. This extract from a Chinese moss has a ginkgo-like affect on the brain. Chinese studies suggest that it slows cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s.
Coenzyme Q10. Vitamin – like coenzyme Q10 is a potent antioxidant. Pilot studies suggest it may help treat Alzheimer’s.
Aromatherapy – Researchers in the UK added lavender oil or placebo in one of the hospital units for Alzheimer’s patients. Those suffering from agitation started behaving more calmly. In another similar study in the UK, lemon balm oil gave similar results.
Acupuncture – Researchers in China used acupuncture for treating Alzheimer’s patients. When they were passed through a hundred sessions, there was significant improvement in their cognitive abilities.
Massage – According to research, massage can also help in soothing those Alzheimer’s patients who suffer from agitation.
Omega – 3 Fatty Acids. Researchers at Tufts studied almost 900 people (average age of 76) with normal cognitive abilities for 9 years. They found that those who sourced most of their omega-3 fatty acids from fish and supplementation were 39% less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s. In another study, those already suffering from the disease gained certain cognitive benefits when they took 3 g omega-3 supplements a day.
Given that Alzheimer’s disease can last two to 20 years from diagnosis, caregivers often face a long and bumpy journey with loved ones. As one caregiver whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease noted: “It is a devastating disease that you know won’t get better. You just have to try and hope for a good day and then prepare yourself for a bad day.”