Tips for Detecting Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Spring has sprung, and with spring comes Mother’s and Father’s Day. While enjoying the colorful flowers and warm weather with your elderly parents and relatives this spring holiday season, keep a close eye on them to look for signs of dementia and brain delay. People over the age of 65 are extra susceptible to developing dementia, and this percentage just increases as you get older. Dementia can be caused by a number of different diseases, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s affects over 24 million people around the world, and over half of them are women. Alzheimer’s is known to affect women much more than men for a variety of reasons.

To begin to understand Alzheimer’s, you also must grasp the concept of dementia.

What is Dementia, and What Causes it?

Dementia is a cumulative term used to describe a variety of symptoms that all lead to a loss of cognitive function. Dementia is a more flexible umbrella term that overall describes a cognitive decline that affects daily life. Memory loss is the most common and noticeable symptom of dementia, but other prevalent symptoms include communication problems, spatial awareness, and many others.

Dementia itself isn’t a disease but can be caused by a number of diseases. Depending on what is causing dementia, it can be reversible if the disease is treatable. Curable causes of dementia include but are not limited to Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, infections, and metabolic and endocrine conditions. However, this isn’t the case for lots of patients as most diseases that cause dementia are not curable. A few examples of these diseases include Parkinson’s disease, Lewy-body disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting over 6.5 million people in just the United States. It is a brain disease that worsens over the course of time and can only be officially diagnosed postmortem. This disease causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die, and can also cause severe dehydration, malnutrition, and infection. Due to a patient’s brain shrinking, common side effects of Alzheimer’s are common dementia symptoms, meaning a decline in thinking, memory, organization, and learning. Alzheimer’s is most common in those over the age of 65, and your chance of developing the disease drastically increases after the age of 65. A survey done in the United States observed that every 9-10 years after the age of 65, your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease almost doubles.

  • 4 out of every 1,000 people aged 65 to 74 years old develop Alzheimer’s each year
  • 32 out of every 1,000 people aged 75 to 84 years old develop Alzheimer’s each year
  • 76 out of every 1,000 people aged 85 and older develop Alzheimer’s each year
  • The percentage of people with Alzheimer’s dementia increases with age: 5.0% of people aged 65 to 74, 13.2% of people aged 75 to 84, and 33.4% of people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer’s dementia.
  • People younger than 65 can also develop Alzheimer’s dementia. Although prevalence studies of younger onset dementia in the U.S. are limited, researchers believe about 110 of every 100,000 people aged 30 to 64 years, or about 200,000 Americans in total, have younger-onset dementia
Related:   Key Questions Answered When Caring For A Loved One Living With Alzheimer’s Disease

Signs and Symptoms

Please keep an eye on your elderly parents or loved one’s behavior this Mother’s and Father’s Day. Look for these symptoms when spending time with them to see if they are starting to show signs of dementia.

  • Experiencing memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion
  • Difficulty speaking, understanding, and expressing thoughts, or reading and writing
  • Visual and spatial problems, i.e. getting lost while driving in a familiar area.
  • Wandering and getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Trouble handling money responsibly and paying bills
  • Repeating questions
  • Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Losing interest in normal daily activities or events
  • Experiencing delusions or paranoia and/or hallucinations
  • Acting impulsively
  • Not caring about other people’s feelings
  • Losing balance and problems with movement

The level of severity of these symptoms can represent the level of disease in the brain, so the worse the symptoms are, the worse the brain disease or condition probably is. This is why recognizing and noticing these symptoms early is so important. Lots of these diseases manifest and worsen over a long period of time so earlier is always better.

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is an illness that worsens over time, and the most common form of the disease progresses in 5 different stages: preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia, moderate dementia, and severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. These 5 stages make up late-onset Alzheimer’s dementia, which is classified once you reach the age of 65.

If you or a loved one starts to show dementia signs before the age of 65, it is called early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia. Only about 5-6% of people with Alzheimer’s fit into this early-onset Alzheimer’s category, and these symptoms usually occur between the ages of 30 and 60. Experts don’t fully know why some develop Alzheimer’s earlier and others do not, but being aware of possible symptoms and causes could be useful later in life.

One way to find out is to get genetically tested. Certain genetic markers are more present in some people, and those who have specific genetic markers can be more prone to Alzheimer’s. If someone in your family has Alzheimer’s or had Alzheimer’s in the past, there is a good chance that you could have genetic markers that increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, please talk to your doctor and consider the consequences of getting tested. Weigh the possibility of knowing you might develop this disease, setting up long-term care and life insurance, and the emotional toll it could take on you and your family.

Women with Alzheimer’s

Of the 6.2 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s disease, almost two-thirds of them are women. This begs the question, “Why are women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men?” The biggest contributor to developing Alzheimer’s disease is old age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop the disease and this chance only increases with age. Women have longer life spans than men. This means women live longer and are older, making their chance of developing the disease much higher. Because women live longer, they usually outlive their partners, leaving them alone later in life. This loneliness also increases the chances of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Other possible causes include the fact that women have stronger immune systems than men and, therefore, develop more amyloid. Amyloid is a component that fights off infection in the brain but is also known as an Alzheimer’s marker. So, in theory, the more amyloid a person has, the more likely they are to develop Alzheimer’s disease. This claim is still being researched, so it is not a set-in-stone cause of Alzheimer’s, but it is something to keep in mind when considering your or a loved one’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Other catalysts for Alzheimer’s disease can be brain activity and education. Historically, women have had less access to good opportunities and higher-paid jobs, so they may not have used their brains to their full potential. Because of this lack of opportunity and brain usage, women historically haven’t been valued or told they matter. This lack of societal and self-worth could have increased their chances of developing the disease because of their lack of education and cognitive reserve later in life. This is still just a theory, as there are many compounding factors that cause Alzheimer’s disease. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that statistically, women develop Alzheimer’s disease much more often than men, and this reasoning needs to be discovered.

Ways to Delay and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

There are many known ways to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. There is still a lot that is not known about Alzheimer’s, but there is plenty we do know about delaying and preventing the onset and its dementia symptoms. If you are concerned about your elderly loved ones and their chances of developing the disease, encourage them to follow some of these tips to decrease their risk of development and increase their quality of life.

  • Ensure they have a cognitive reserve. Keeping their minds honed and active should decrease their brain decay. Encouraging them to play word games, crosswords, or card games can keep their brain sharp. A great way is to get them to join a bridge or mahjong club.
  • Many seniors miss their jobs and the challenges they face. This can be especially impactful for those who spent a career in education. Help ailing parents fill this gap by encouraging them to enroll in online classes. There are many online classes catering to seniors that educate them on many different topics, from learning technology skills to Tai Chi. Check out Senior Planet, AARP, or even some universities that offer free classes to those over 65. This can increase their brain productivity and their connection with society and their passions. Having a full education and ample opportunities can severely decrease someone’s chance of getting Alzheimer’s, especially women.
  • Get them involved in their community! Whether that be enrolling them in an art class at the community center or getting them to volunteer at the local library.
  • Call your elderly loved ones and stay connected! Studies show that a weekly phone call to your elderly loved ones can significantly improve their mental health and decrease their likelihood of depression and loneliness, therefore decreasing their chance of developing dementia.
  • Ensure they are managing their hypertension or watch for signs of hypertension. Studies have shown that those with high blood pressure are more likely to have biomarkers for Alzheimer’s than those with low blood pressure. Studies also show that regulated blood pressure is ideal for decreasing your risk of dementia because fluctuating blood pressure increases your dementia risk.
  • Keep active! Exercise and physical activity are crucial for lowering cognitive decline. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week can make an enormous difference with Alzheimer’s patients. It improves their mood, creates a routine, manages their heart health, and keeps their muscles and joints in good condition. This can look like playing pickleball, going on a walk with a friend, going for a swim, and many other activities.
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet. Recent studies suggest the possibility that eating a Mediterranean diet may slow the development of dementia. The Mediterranean diet is full of lean meats, leafy greens, and whole grains, which make it perfect for staying healthy in both your mind and heart.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is when the body repairs and regenerates and if people aren’t getting enough sleep, this can increase their risk of developing illnesses and diseases. More sleep can also lower the risk of heart conditions which can prevent the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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If your loved one is showing some of the signs and symptoms above, remember that this could be defined as dementia, but dementia is almost always caused by something else. Whether that be an infection, a brain tumor, Alzheimer’s disease, or Huntington’s disease. So, if your relatives and loved ones start to show symptoms, please contact a doctor.

Alzheimer’s disease is still a condition that doctors and the public know very little about. The best thing to do is stay up-to-date by reading clinical trials and the latest discoveries. There is always more to know about Alzheimer’s, as doctors and scientists are uncovering new information all the time. So, if you or a loved one gets a diagnosis, remember, there might still be a solution out there, it just needs to be discovered.

References:

Why is dementia different for women? | Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk)

https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2024/02/06/weekly-phone-calls-improve-mental-health-in-isolated-seniors/

What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)

What can you do to avoid Alzheimer’s disease? – Harvard Health

Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Stages (clevelandclinic.org)

Alzheimer’s and dementia: What’s the difference? – Mayo Clinic

Dementia – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Why are women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease? – Harvard Health

Blood Pressure and Alzheimer’s Risk: What’s the Connection? | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Can physical or cognitive activity prevent dementia? – Harvard Health

Alzheimer’s: Is it in your genes? – Mayo Clinic

Young-onset Alzheimer’s: When symptoms begin before age 65 – Mayo Clinic

Alzheimer’s stages: How the disease progresses – Mayo Clinic

 

Author
Olivia Salzwedel

Olivia Salzwedel is an editor and writer for InnoVision Health Media with great enthusiasm for healthy eating and an active lifestyle. Her experience with running, gut-health, and dietary restrictions have inspired her passion for conscious, nutritious eating and living.

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