Despite what many people believe, Alzheimer’s disease is not a newly discovered disease. In fact, Alzheimer’s was identified over a century ago. Advances in medicine that make diagnosing the disease easier coupled with the dramatic increase in the elderly population in the United States only makes it appear as though Alzheimer’s is more prevalent today than it was just a generation ago. Nevertheless, there is a strong possibility that you or someone you care about will develop Alzheimer’s at some point, making it vital to understand the disease. Toward that end, the elder law attorneys at Legacy Care Law Firm discuss what everyone needs to know about Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Despite a worldwide effort to explain and eventually cure Alzheimer’s disease, we still do not know everything there is to know about the disease. The National Institute on Aging explains Alzheimer’s disease as a “brain disorder that gradually erodes memory, thinking abilities, and eventually the capacity to perform even basic tasks.” Alzheimer’s disease causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to eventually die. Typically, the symptoms of the disease do not begin to show until something with the disease is in his/her 60s or beyond. Early onset Alzheimer’s, a much rarer form of the disease, can manifest symptoms prior to age 65.
There is currently no way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and no cure. We do, however, have diagnostic tools that can help identify risk factors and diagnose the disease much earlier. In addition, there are treatments that have demonstrated that removing beta-amyloid, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, from the brain can reduce cognitive and functional decline in people living with early Alzheimer’s. Other treatments can also temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures
If it seems as though everyone knows someone with Alzheimer’s, it’s probably because that is likely true given the prevalence of the disease. Consider the following facts and figures published by the Alzheimer’s Association:
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, meaning the symptoms will increase and escalate up to the point of death. There are seven stages that an Alzheimer’s sufferer experiences, as follows:
- Stage One. Often called “pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease,” changes in the brain occur behind the scenes 10 to 15 years before symptoms show.
- Stage Two. Symptoms of the disease are often confused with normal age-related forgetfulness. Forgetting simple things such as names and dates will become more frequent and more pronounced if the individual has Alzheimer’s.
- Stage Three. Forgetfulness increases and recently learned information may be forgotten. Planning and organizing suffers and social or work settings become challenging. People are often diagnosed during this stage.
- Stage Four. Symptoms have moved beyond slight memory loss. Damage to the brain can also result in difficulty with language, organization, and calculations. Memory loss will become more significant with the individual remembering more distant events better than recent events. Personality changes and moodiness are also more prevalent, and medication may be required to help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At this stage, which can last for several years, an Alzheimer’s sufferer is at risk of wandering off and getting lost and may require some supervision.
- Stage five. Memory loss at this stage becomes even more pronounced. Remembering even close family members or friends may be difficult if not impossible at times. Basic tasks, such as getting dressed or bathing, can cause frustration and confusion. Delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations may occur. Close supervision is necessary at this stage.
- Stage Six. Managing daily tasks becomes impossible and it is now unsafe for the individual to live alone. Alzheimer’s has also now made it difficult for the individual to communicate, meaning they may not be able to express their needs or feelings. Personality changes continue to occur and frustration and anxiety increase.
- Stage Seven. In the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the individual’s brain cells have been severely altered, causing physical and mental impairment. The person’s physical body starts shutting down and the mind cannot effectively communicate with the body.
Do You Have Elder Law Questions?
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you want to learn more about elder law issues and concerns, contact our elder law attorneys in our North Andover, Woburn, and Beverly offices at (978) 969-0331. Our Salem and Nashua, New Hampshire office can be reached at (603) 894-4141.
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