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Dementia of Alzheimer’s Type: 10 Warning Signs

Introduction

Alzheimer’s disease is a permanent, progressive illness of the brain, which gradually damages the memory as well as thinking ability. In due course, the capability to execute even the most undemanding everyday jobs is also destroyed. The ailment gets its name from Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first diagnosed it in 1906 (About Alzheimer’s disease, n.d.). Alzheimer’s disease is the chief cause of dementia in the elderly. Dementia is a protracted deterioration in memory, thinking and reasoning competence. Alzheimer’s disease usually manifests in patients after the age of 60 (National Institute of Aging, n.d.).

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The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases as the person grows older. Therefore, age is the main risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, family history plays a significant role in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. People with a history of Alzheimer’s disease in their family have higher chances of developing the complication in the future than those without such a history. The possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease is also raised when the APOE-e4 genes are conveyed to the offspring from the parent. Contrary to popular belief a study by Lindsay et al. shows that arthritis, consumption of wine, coffee, and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (2002).

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Differentiating between normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease is a challenging task as since they share most symptoms. Therefore, a caregiver ought to determine whether a particular symptom is a new occurrence in the life of the patient or whether it is something normal. For instance, when a person who is good at drawing pictures starts straining while implementing this task it can be taken as a cause for alarm. There are ten warning signs that one needs to be on the lookout for when diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. The first sign is memory loss that interrupts everyday life. A person may fail to remember newly learned information, significant dates and occasions or depend heavily on memory aides such as notes and alarms for things that they normally deal with on their own. Challenges in setting up or solving problems are the second warning indicators in Alzheimer’s disease. A person may encounter changes in his capacity to adhere to a plan or use numbers. Consequently, brief tasks may take unnecessarily long to complete.

The third warning sign is difficulty in the implementation of well-known tasks. This can be at home, at the workplace or even during leisure activities such as when playing a favorite game (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009). The fourth sign is that Alzheimer’s disease leads to a mix-up of time or place. An individual may be unable to recall what time or date it is and be completely unaware of the seasons. Difficulty comprehending visual images and spatial interactions is the fifth indication to look out for in Alzheimer’s disease. An individual’s perception of color contrast and judgment of distance becomes greatly impaired. Such a person is usually deemed unfit to drive as they have high chances of causing road accidents. In addition, people with Alzheimer’s disease may lose the ability to follow and maintain a conversation, which is the sixth sign. They may fail to use simple vocabulary and call things by wrong names. The seventh indicator of Alzheimer’s disease is “misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps” (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009, p. 8). A person may falsely accuse others of stealing the misplaced item when in reality they may not simply recall where they kept it. During normal aging, elderly people can mislay things once in a while, but later go back over their steps to find the lost items. A significant reduction in judgment and decision making is the eighth symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. A person may exhibit poor judgment when handling money and may have the tendency to give out too much money when making purchases. He may also fail to pay attention to good grooming and hygiene. Poor decision making may occur occasionally during the normal aging process, but repeated misjudgment is a warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

Pulling out from work or collective activities may also signify the development of Alzheimer’s disease (the ninth indicator). This withdrawal is probably because the person cannot stay abreast of their favorite game or because they feel embarrassed of their memory loss. The ultimate indicator of Alzheimer’s disease is alterations in temper and individuality. This may bring confusion, gloominess, fear, and apprehension causing disturbance to the individuals whenever they feel out of place (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009). However, changes in temperament may be associated with other medical conditions. Therefore, it is imperative to consult a doctor whenever such changes are noticed.

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary with individuals, and for this reason different people may show varying symptoms at different rates. Alzheimer’s disease has seven different phases that are used to monitor the progression of the condition. The initial stage is the normal function phase where there is no evidence of memory difficulties in the subject. A medical examination at this stage reveals no indicator of dementia. This is followed by the very mild cognitive decline stage where the person feels that they have memory lapses yet a medical assessment does not reveal any symptom of dementia. In the mild cognitive decline phase, people close to the individual such as relatives, friends and fellow workers start detecting problems. A medical check exposes problems in recollection or concentration (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.). The fourth stage is the moderate cognitive decline, which marks the early phases of the disease. At this stage, a medical check reveals definite symptoms in matters such as lack of memory of recent occurrences, mood swings, problems executing intricate tasks as well as mentally taxing arithmetic (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.).

The moderately relentless cognitive decline is the fifth phase and marks the middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease. There are obvious disparities in memory and thinking although an individual still recalls significant aspects about himself as well as his relations. However, it becomes hard to deal with other easy tasks and such a person may require help in doing minor tasks such as choosing clothing. This stage is followed by the severe cognitive decline phase where memory keeps on deteriorating. Personality changes take place at this stage, and the person may require a lot of assistance with everyday activities including toileting. The very severe cognitive decline is the last stage of Alzheimer’s disease. A person cannot act in response to his surroundings or continue a discussion. Ultimately, he fails to manage movement and reflexes, but can still utter words and expressions. At this point, extensive assistance is required in his everyday life.

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Diagnostic Criteria and Nursing Assessments

There is no precise test to confirm that an individual has Alzheimer’s disease. However, various tests can help a medical practitioner come to a conclusion that one has the disease. Such tests include physical and neurological assessments, psychological status examinations and neuropsychological tests besides brain imaging. Blood examination can also help to exclude other possible causes of memory loss and confusion.

Interventions in Alzheimer’s Disease

Currently, there is no medication that can permanently cure Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are medications that can help to keep its symptoms in check by decelerating the rate of memory loss. These include donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine, which can be administered in mild and moderate disease condition. Memantine is used in the treatment of average to serious Alzheimer’s disease. These medications control neurotransmitters thereby maintaining thinking, memory and speaking skills. In addition, such drugs can be effective in containing some of the behavioral difficulties. Alzheimer’s patients require patience, affection and consideration from their family members. However, taking care of people with Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming. Therefore, assisted living facilities and nursing homes are useful in caring for such patients.

Other Considerations in the Management of Alzheimer’s Disease

Some nursing homes expose people with dementia to poor quality of life due to the provision of improper care. A thorough comprehension of research that advances service provision can go a long way in guaranteeing first-rate care for these patients. A review by Tilly and Reed focuses on interventions associated with daily life activities as well as psychosocial and behavioral traits of Alzheimer’s patients (2004). This review emphasizes that nurses must pay attention to patients’ “physiological needs (i.e. eating, drinking, toileting, and sleep), hygiene (i.e. bathing, dressing and grooming), ambulation, and psychiatric and behavioral symptoms” (Tilly & Reed, 2004, p. 2). It is shown that providing patients with a lively atmosphere during meals (such as background music) improves their overall food consumption as well as reducing irritability and apprehension (Tilly & Reed, 2004). In addition, highly nutritive food is shown to enhance eating thereby enhancing the overall health of the patients.

References

About Alzheimer’s disease. (n.d.).

Alzheimer’s Association. (2009). 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Web.

Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s & Symptoms. Web.

Lindsay, J., Laurin, D., Verreault, R., Herbert, R., Helliwell, B., Hill, G. B., & McDowell, I. (2002). Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease: A prospective analysis from the Canadian study of health and aging. American Journal of Epidemiology, 156(5), 445-453.

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National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Understanding Alzheimer’s disease: What you need to know. Web.

Tilly, J. & Reed, P. (2004). Evidence on interventions to improve quality of care for residents with dementia in nursing and assisted living facilities.

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