WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
The cause of Alzheimer’s is not the same in every person with the disease, but the symptoms seem to develop over the same general stages.
Studies suggest that Alzheimer’s progression starts several years before the manifestation of the initial symptom of cognitive decline. This stage is known as the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Although no symptoms become apparent during this time, toxic changes in the brain continue to occur.
After years, the clinical signs and symptoms start appearing in people with Alzheimer’s. The symptoms of late-onset Alzheimer’s appear when people are in their mid – 60s, for the most part. Early-onset type disease is comparatively rare, and the affected people mostly show initial symptoms between their 30s and mid-60s.
VERY EARLY SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Memory problems and trouble recalling information are one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with mild AD sometimes have a condition called amnesiac mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with MCI have more memory problems than normal for people their age, but their symptoms are not as severe as those of people with AD. More people with MCI go on to develop AD than people without MCI.
MILD ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, memory loss continues further, and changes in other cognitive abilities appear. The affected people may appear healthy, but they find it harder to make sense of their surroundings. A friend or a family member can often notice these changes in the patient. The symptoms in this stage can include the following:
- Memory loss
- Wandering and getting lost
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Repeating questions
- Taking longer than before to complete normal daily tasks
- Poor judgment
- Losing things or misplacing them in peculiar places
- Mood and personality changes
- Loss of initiative and spontaneity
- Increased anxiety and aggression
In most people with Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms first appear at or after age 60. AD is often diagnosed at this stage.
MODERATE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
In moderate AD, damage occurs in areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought. At this stage, the patient usually requires help carrying out the tasks in their routine as well as taking care of themselves. The symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s disease may include the following problems:
- Increased memory loss and confusion
- Problems recognizing family and friends
- Inability to learn new things
- Difficulty carrying out tasks that involve multiple steps (such as getting dressed)
- Trouble coping with new situations
- Delusions and paranoia
- Impulsive behavior
- Problems with speaking, reading, and writing
- Reduced attention span
- Inappropriate anger outbursts
- Wandering, anxiety, aggression, and restlessness
SEVERE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
People with severe AD cannot communicate and entirely depend on others for their care. Besides severe cognitive impairment, this stage also increasingly affects the movement and physical functioning of the patient. The muscles become stiff, making it difficult for the person to sit or walk without support or assistance.
With further progression, the patient experiences a gradual loss of swallowing ability and exhibits an inability to control bladder and bowel functions. At this stage, the individual requires complete assistance to accomplish self-care tasks, including dressing, bathing, and eating. As the disease progresses to the end stages, the person may be in bed most or all of the time. The Following are some of the symptoms of severe Alzheimer’s:
- Inability to recognize oneself or family
- Inability to communicate
- Weight loss
- Skin infections
- Difficulty swallowing
- Groaning, moaning, or grunting
- Increased sleeping
- Lack of control of bowel and bladder
Aspiration pneumonia is a common cause of death among late-stage Alzheimer’s patients. This form of pneumonia develops when a person has difficulty swallowing, causing the food or drinks to enter the lungs. Other causes of death include falls, malnutrition, dehydration, and other infections.
Alzheimer’s symptoms usually become apparent in the mild stage of the disease. At this stage, the patient experiences cognitive decline to such a degree that it interferes with daily activities. A family member or a friend usually notices the symptoms.
Currently, there is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. The doctors usually make a diagnosis based on the presence of symptoms. They will ask the patient (and their caregivers) about symptoms, experiences, and medical history. Based on their observation, they may recommend tests to aid diagnosis, including cognitive or memory tests, neurological functions tests, CT scans, or an MRI scan of the brain.
Research is still underway to find a single effective cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Although it is impossible to reverse cell death in the brain, there are some ways to temporarily treat the symptoms to improve the quality of life for the patients and their caregivers.
At the moment, the FDA has approved several drugs that can either slow Alzheimer’s progression or alleviate it’s symptoms.