What is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term (not a specific disease) that describes a group of symptoms which negatively impacts memory severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia with 60-80% of cases, while Vascular Dementia is the second most common dementia type. Nevertheless, there are many other conditions that cause symptoms of dementia. As opposed to Alzheimer’s, some forms of dementia are reversible.
What is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia that destroys memory and thinking skills and causes problems with behavior. It is estimated that Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Unlike age-related memory loss, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging and can affect a person’s thinking, memory, and behavior.
What are the different stages of Alzheimer’s?
As it is with many things in life “one size does not fit all”. There is a lot of research around the different stages of Alzheimer’s. Some researchers argue there are three stages (mild, moderate, severe), some argue it rather should be seven different stages. We want to give you more information about the seven stages developed by the well-known expert Dr. Barry Reisberg of New York University (NYU) who broke down the progression of Alzheimer's disease into seven different stages. It's Important to keep in mind that every person with Alzheimer’s will experience the disease differently.
Neither Alzheimer's or any other memory problems are visible or detectible.
Very Mild Decline
The individual might detect some minor memory problems, such as losing things around the home (e.g. key, remote). However, these aren’t distinguishable from normal age-related memory problems, and the condition will likely not be detected by physicians or family members, for example, it is very likely that the individual will still get good results in memory tests.
Friends and family may begin to notice memory problems. These may include difficulty finding words in conversations, remembering the names of new acquaintances as well as difficulties in planning and organizing things. The individual might not do well on memory tests and these symptoms are likely to be noticeable to loved-ones and medical professionals (i.e. a physician is able to make a diagnosis).
This stage shows clear symptoms of Alzheimer, such as: Difficulty with simple mathematics, issues with remembering even the most short-term events, problems recalling significant life events from the past, as well as having problems to pay bills and manage finances.
Moderately Severe Decline
It is typical for the fifth stage that individuals need help with day-to-day activities and might lose some of their independence. Nevertheless, they can still do basic things like showering, brushing teeth and are able to use the toilet on their own. They may be increasingly confused and struggle to remember simple personal details such as their age, their phone number, or date of birth. Even though people in this stage are increasingly confused, they’re still able to remember events from their childhood and youth vividly.
Individuals in the sixth stage of Alzheimer's usually require round-the-clock care, often by professionals. Wandering, loss of bladder and bowel control, assistance for activities of daily living (i.e. showering, teeth brushing etc.), significant personality changes and behavior problems, the inability to remember most details of personal history, confusion and/or unawareness of surroundings and environment as well as the inability to recognize faces (except close friends and family) are the most common symptoms in this stage.
Very Severe Decline
In the final stage of Alzheimer’s, individuals are close to death. They become unresponsive and are unable to communicate. They need assistance with every aspect of daily life and may also need assistance with swallowing.
What are the Signs or Symptoms of Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's is a progressive condition. This means that symptoms are mild at first, but develop to a moderate and severe state over a number of years (sometimes even just months) to the point where the patient is unable to interact with their environment or hold a conversation.
Confusion regarding places, people, events and time, as well as disorientation
Difficulty remembering new information
Behavioral changes and ups and downs in mood
Suspicion about family, friends, and caregivers
Even more serious memory-loss and behavior changes
And sometimes even difficulty in walking, speaking and swallowing
Unfortunately, there is no cure to reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s at the moment. Nevertheless, medication can ease other Alzheimer’s symptoms, such as depression.
Alzheimer’s should not be confused with normal aging, which can result in slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things, for example, where you put your keys or the remote. It is also important to keep in mind that family members or friends might see the signs of Alzheimer's first. If you experience memory loss or other symptoms of dementia it is recommended to talk to your doctor about it. Likewise, if you find those symptoms in a family member, you should say something to the doctor of your loved one.
An earlier diagnosis can significantly improve the quality of life through intervention and treatment methods.
What are the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's?
The signs of Alzheimer’s Disease can vary and are often very vague in earlier stages of Alzheimer’s. If you’re concerned about your memory, you should speak to a doctor. In general, signs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias are that it affects your daily life. Below are the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s:
Memory loss that interferes with daily life
Difficulty planning or solving problems
Problems completing familiar tasks at work or home
Confusion with time or place
Difficulty understanding spatial and visual relationships
Problems finding words when either writing or speaking
Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps
Decreased or poor judgement
Withdrawal from work or social activity
Changes in mood or personality
What are the Alzheimer's Risk Factors?
There are a variety of risk factors linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, however not all of them are well understood. Some of the factors which you may be able to influence include head injury or traumatic brain injury and poor heart health. There are two risk factors you can’t change: age and genetics. If you age, and if you have a specific genetic constellation, your risk of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia increases. Nevertheless, there are a few steps you can take to maintain your cognitive and brain health.
Avoid drinking alcohol
Control Type 2 Diabetes
Follow a healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies
Keep your mind active
Keep blood pressureand cholesterol at
Keep a healthy body weight
Spend time with family and friends
At MindMate, we can help you to make a lifestyle change: exercise more, eat healthier and keep your mind active.
How can MindMate help a person with Alzheimer’s?
MindMate helps stimulate grey matter and improves lifestyle through multipart intervention (if the daily activities plan is followed correctly). It keeps the mind mentally strong through games, which exercise different parts of the brain in the Games section, different workouts, and nutrition tips.
Research suggests that physical activity plays a big role in Alzheimer’s prevention and supporting brain health (please see: FINGER study, and research from UT Southwestern Medical Center and Sweden). Recent studies have shown that physical activity can reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to 88%. Other studies have found a link between the MIND Diet or Mediterranean Diet and positively reducing the risk of developing dementia in later life. MindMate translated the research that is out there into a comprehensive and user friendly app and we hope to help you to make a lifestyle change and live a healthier life.
Apart from that, research from the University of Glasgow found that people with early Alzheimer’s are more independent when they use MindMate, compared to their peers with early Alzheimer’s who did not use MindMate.
Where can I get
tested for Alzheimer's?
The first port of call for getting tested is your own doctor. They will listen to your concerns and can run specific tests on you. Those tests will usually involve some questions, some memory thinking exercises and some pen and paper exercises to assess how different areas of the brain are functioning.
If your doctor still isn’t sure if you have Alzheimer’s, they will refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist or an elderly care physician, who are usually based at memory clinics. Apart from tests, they can also analyze your brain through MRI and PET scans.
What do I do if I have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's?
Being diagnosed with Alzheimer's is, undoubtedly, a life-changing moment. However, it’s important not to panic. Firstly, you should ask your doctor to explain why that’s the diagnosis and where you, or your loved-one, might be in the stages of the disease.
You can then seek support through charity organisations like the Alzheimer's Association or Alzheimer’s Disease International, who provide help and support in managing the condition. Lastly, it’s wise to begin planning for the future. This might involve making financial plans to ensure future care and practical preparations (e.g. around the house) for care in future stages of the condition.
What treatment methods are available for Alzheimer’s patients?
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and once a diagnosis is made, there is nothing that can be done to reverse symptoms. However, there are a number of treatments available that have been proven to ease symptoms and make life easier for those living with the condition.
One of three drugs called Donepezil, Galantamine and Rivastigmine may be prescribed depending on the individual case, and often one will prove most effective for each individual. These drugs work to slow the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain, a chemical that is vital to memory and learning. These drugs are usually effective for 6 to 12 months and may be accompanied by mild side-effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue.
Aside from these, doctors are often able to prescribe medications to treat some of the most difficult symptoms of the disease such as sleeplessness, depression and aggression.
There are also other treatment available for people with Alzheimer’s:
Reminiscence Therapy: Through Music or Photos from the person’s past, long-lost memories can be retrieved. This therapy is popular amongst people with severe Alzheimer’s.
Cognitive Stimulation Therapy: During meetings, participants will discuss current events and do meaningful activities together, such as playing mind games, cooking a healthy recipe or singing together. This form of therapy benefits people who live with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease.
Reality Orientation Training: This program focuses on the specific person who lives with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and helps them to engage and connect with their surroundings. It will go over very basic things, such as the person’s name, time and date. It also places labels or signs on doors, cupboards, light switches etc. Nevertheless, critiques of the reality orientation training state that this program might be too patronizing for some people.
MindMate works with leading research organizations to find a cure for Alzheimer's and other forms of memory loss. Because there is no cure, joining a clinical trial may be a good option for you. It is very important to understand that when joining a clinical trial, you are not a human “guinea pig” and you may be able to help millions of other patients with the same health condition. There are also many research studies for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
As you can imagine, there are many things to consider before joining clinical research, this is why we dedicated one single site about clinical trials. You can find more information on clinical trials here.