Increase Your Understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease
By Nikki Heinert, MS, OTR, Program Manager, Alzheimer’s Association, Bismarck, ND
Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia currently affects 5.4 million people in the U.S., and 20,000 of those people live right here in North Dakota. These numbers are expected to increase to as many as 16 million in the U.S. by mid-century. The Alzheimer’s Association’s mission is to:
- eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research,
- provide and enhance care and support for all affected,
- reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
The Difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term like the word “cancer.” There are many types and causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for about 80 percent of cases. It is a progressive disease, meaning that it continues to destroy brain cells, causing the symptoms of memory loss and thinking deficits to gradually worsen. Though there are treatments that are available and are most effectively used to delay the worsening of symptoms earlier in the disease, the disease is fatal.
Many people believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging. IT IS NOT! If you or someone you know has memory concerns that are affecting daily life, please see your primary care physician and tell him/her what you are noticing. Different types of dementia are dealt with differently. Only through testing will your doctor be able to figure out what is going on. If you are not satisfied by the testing, ask to be referred to a geriatrician or a neurologist. Many people go undiagnosed for years, losing valuable time that could be spent planning for the future and managing symptoms.
The diagnosis may not be Alzheimer’s disease. Some illnesses can cause memory problems and are treatable and reversible, if caught early. Other illnesses, such as heart disease, can be life-threatening, if not treated promptly. It is crucial not to ignore the changes you or your loved one is experiencing and assume that the cause is Alzheimer’s disease.
The 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia:
- Memory changes that disrupt daily life
- Challenges in planning and solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Risk Factors for Developing Alzheimer’s Disease
Age is the biggest risk factor. One in 8 people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. Almost half of persons over age 85 have the disease. Although it is most common to develop the disease later in life, not everyone that has Alzheimer’s disease is elderly. The youngest person we serve in ND is 30 years old.
Another strong risk factor is family history. Those who have a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics) or environmental factors, or both, may play a role. Scientists know genes are involved in Alzheimer’s. There are two types of genes that can play a role in affecting whether a person develops a disease—risk genes and deterministic genes. Alzheimer’s genes have been found in both categories.
Risk genes increase the likelihood of developing a disease, but do not guarantee it will happen. Scientists have so far identified several risk genes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The risk gene with the strongest influence is called apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4). Scientists estimate that APOE-e4 may be a factor in 20 to 25 percent of Alzheimer’s cases.
Deterministic genes directly cause a disease, guaranteeing that anyone who inherits them will develop the disorder. When Alzheimer’s disease is caused by these deterministic variations, it is called “autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease (ADAD)” or “familial Alzheimer’s disease,” and many family members in multiple generations are affected. Symptoms nearly always develop before age 60, and may appear as early as a person’s 30s or 40s. Deterministic Alzheimer’s variations have been found in only a few hundred extended families worldwide. True familial Alzheimer’s accounts for less than 5 percent of cases. One family lives here in ND and two families in MN.
If your diagnosis is any type of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association is here to help support you through free services that include:
- care consultation,
- education for caregivers and professional caregivers,
- support groups,
- and our 24/7 Helpline, 1-800-272-3900.
Care consultation is one of the core services of the Alzheimer’s Association’s MN-ND Chapter. The consultation consists of a family meeting to assist the caregiver and person with dementia in planning for and dealing with all aspects of the illness. We provide help with assessment of needs, developing a care plan, assisting with referrals, problem-solving issues, and providing ongoing education and support.
Through this service, you will receive one-on-one assistance that will enable you to better manage care and make more informed decisions regarding services and treatments. Services can be delivered via phone, email, home visits, office visits or in any other convenient location. Care consultation can be a valuable resource for those coping with dementia’s impact on their lives.
We need your help to promote awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. If you would like to volunteer, have any questions or concerns and/or feel you could benefit from our services, please call 1-800-272-3900.