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Understanding Alzheimer’s disease

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Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more and more frequent, affecting a large number of men and women around the world. Understanding it better is the best way to give yourself the power to face it.

Mieux comprendre la maladie d’Alzheimer

All of us humans are eventually faced with getting old. This extremely normal process of aging can be filled with enriching experiences and fulfillment, but it can also cause much worry about one’s abilities and those of loved ones; for example, a simple memory lapse can lead to serious questions about one’s health. How can you tell the difference between the normal aging process and a medical issue that requires attention, such as Alzheimer’s disease?

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks the brain and is the most common form of cognitive disability. Alzheimer’s disease is not part of the normal aging process. It is true that as a person gets older, a decline in intellectual capacities and memory can be expected. However, if this decline is faster than normal, it is important to ask questions and act to help the affected person.

What are the main symptoms of the disease?

The main symptoms are often first noticed by the person’s loved ones and can include:

  • memory loss (more than slight forgetfulness);
  • difficulty accomplishing daily chores or abstract tasks;
  • language problems (ex: forgetting simple words);
  • changes in mood, behaviour or personality;
  • decrease in judgement;
  • disorientation – time and space (ex: getting lost on one’s street, trouble telling day and time);
  • misplaced objects (putting objects in the wrong place);
  • loss of interest.

It is essential to consult a doctor as soon as one or several of these symptoms is noticed because they could also be caused by other health problems.

What are its causes?

Although the reasons behind Alzheimer’s disease are still not entirely clear, there are a few known causes and other hypotheses still being studied:

  • aging (greatest risk factor);
  • genetics (even though a genetic link has been established, it is still not known whether the genes will be transmitted to the next generations);
  • other factors that still need to be confirmed by research, such as pre-existing disease or health issues, infections, environmental toxins, level of education, intake of alcohol and tobacco, diet and exercise.

What are the stages of the disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a progressive degeneration (destruction) of brain cells. The disease usually evolves through different stages, which will lead to changes in the life of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and in the lives of their loved ones. However, the disease’s evolution greatly varies from one patient to another, making it impossible to predict their symptoms, the order in which they will appear or the duration of each stage. The disease usually lasts from 7 to 10 years, but it can be longer for some individuals. Here is a brief overview of each stage:

  1. Early stage: The person can lead a relatively autonomous life with minimal help. He or she understands the changes that are occurring.
  2. Moderate stage: Cognitive abilities and memory continue to decline. There is a significant increase in the need for help with daily tasks, and the patient requires some care.
  3. Advanced stage: There is a significant loss of mental faculties and the person is unable to communicate verbally or take care of him or herself.

Why is it important to get diagnosed?

Although Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disease for which there is no cure, getting diagnosed is vital because several treatments are available to slow down its progression. A doctor can give such a diagnosis thanks to a series of tests that can eliminate other possible causes of symptoms.

Available treatments can be used to improve the symptoms associated with a decline in daily activities, general functions and mental faculties. Certain medications can also be prescribed to treat some of the symptoms or related issues, such as depression and anxiety. Your pharmacist can answer many of your questions regarding drug therapy, such as expected results, mode of action and side effects.

Obviously, feeling like your memory is going can be very worrisome. But rest assured; even if you experience slight forgetfulness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have Alzheimer’s disease. If you have doubts, though, see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis. If the final verdict shows that you must live with this disease, it will be reassuring to know that you can count on the expertise of health professionals, such as your doctor and pharmacist, and on the support of loved ones. Turn to people you trust; together, you will be able to determine strategies allowing you to adjust to this new reality.

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