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June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month: What are the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the month when the Alzheimer’s Association raises awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Currently, Alzheimer’s accounts for 5.8 million of the 50 million people in the U.S. who suffer from some form of dementia. Among those over 65, the number of people with dementia is projected to reach 13.8 million by 2050.

Although there’s no way to stop the damage and destruction that result from Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, there are medications that can temporarily improve function. By raising awareness, the Alzheimer’s Association hopes to help treat, prevent, and ultimately cure this fatal disease. For now, however, early intervention is the best method of slowing the disease’s progression.

What are the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

Although memory often changes as we grow older, memory loss that disrupts daily life is abnormal and is one of Alzheimer’s early signs. It’s important to take action, since early diagnosis provides a wide variety of benefits—including an improved response to treatment, increased opportunities to participate in clinical trials, and the chance to make lifestyle changes that can help to preserve cognitive function.

Other advantages of early intervention include a lessening of anxiety about the cause of symptoms, additional time to plan for the future, and reduced long-term care costs.

Consult your doctor if you notice any of these 10 Alzheimer’s disease signs and symptoms:

  1. Memory loss: A common early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetting recently learned information. This may include not recalling important dates or events, repeatedly asking the same questions, or increasingly relying on memory aids.
  2. Problems planning or solving problems: Those with dementia often have problems developing a plan or working with numbers. Keeping track of monthly bills or following a recipe may be difficult or take much longer than it once did.
  3. Difficulty or inability to complete familiar tasks: Alzheimer’s may affect daily tasks, such as organizing a grocery list or driving to a familiar location.
  4. Time or place confusion: Losing track of dates and even seasons, or having difficulty understanding where you are, are common Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
  5. Visual or spatial problems: Those who experience balance problems, have trouble reading, or find it difficult to judge distance may be exhibiting common signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
  6. Problems speaking or writing: People with Alzheimer’s often stop in the middle of a conversation, unable to continue. They may struggle with vocabulary or have trouble naming familiar objects.
  7. Misplacing things or an inability to trace steps: Those experiencing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms often lose items or leave items in unusual places.
  8. Decreased judgment: Decision-making and judgment are often impacted by Alzheimer’s. This may result in poor judgment when managing money or neglecting daily tasks such as grooming.
  9. Social withdrawal: Unable to hold or follow a conversation, many people living with Alzheimer’s withdraw from social activities and hobbies.
  10. Mood and personality changes: Those with Alzheimer’s may become confused, depressed, suspicious, or anxious. This can happen at home, with friends, or whenever someone with Alzheimer’s strays from their comfort zone.

How do the stages of Alzheimer’s disease progress?

An adult brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells. Alzheimer’s disease gradually kills these nerve cells, ultimately affecting almost all of the brain’s functions.

The disease progresses in stages, with some changes beginning as early as 20 years before diagnosis. The speed at which the disease stages progress depends on a person’s age at the time of diagnosis, along with any other existing health conditions. In general, the mild to moderate stage typically lasts from two to ten years, with the severe stage spanning between one and five years.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Although the causes of Alzheimer’s are largely unknown, there’s a suspected link to the build-up of plaques. Small clumps form between nerve cells, blocking cell-to-cell signaling and activating immune system cells, which triggers inflammation.

In other words, unlike a healthy brain in which parallel strands deliver nutrients and other essential materials to the cells, in a brain affected by Alzheimer’s, tangles block the movement of these essential supplies, causing cells to eventually die. This shrinks the brain dramatically and affects almost every function.

What are common treatments for Alzheimer’s?

Current medications cannot cure or stop the disease, but they can treat symptoms, slow the disease’s progression, and improve quality of life.

Treatments fall into four distinct categories:

  1. Medications for memory: These types of drugs are prescribed to lessen symptoms like memory loss and confusion. However, they’re only effective for a limited time.
  2. Behavior treatments: Irritability, anxiety, and depression are common in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Later stages can produce aggression and delusions. When non-drug options fail to alleviate these symptoms, medications may be prescribed. These should be carefully monitored, though, since currently no drugs for behavioral and psychiatric dementia symptoms have been approved by the FDA.
  3. Treating sleep changes: Sleep problems are often associated with Alzheimer’s, although little is known about why. Sleep medications are generally recommended only after non-drug approaches have failed.
  4. Alternative treatments: Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements claim to enhance memory or either delay or prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It should be noted that these treatments do not undergo the rigorous FDA approval process required of prescription drugs.

In addition to these treatment options, other promising drugs may be on the horizon as new research reveals how Alzheimer’s affects the brain. Clinical studies are vital in speeding up this critical process.

How to help those with Alzheimer’s

If you or someone you love suffers from Alzheimer’s, there are a number of ways you can help. For example, you can provide emotional support for others with Alzheimer’s and dementia by sharing your personal stories, both the patient’s and caregiver’s, via social media.

You might also consider spending a few hours a week volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association. You could become a community educator or support group facilitator, or help out with annual events.

One of the events requiring help is The Longest Day, promoted in June of each year. During this time of the summer solstice, the event sheds light on the “darkness of Alzheimer’s.” Global participants turn their favorite activities into fundraising events to benefit the organization’s care, support, and research efforts. To register or learn more, visit The Longest Day.

Another way to help is through the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s consists of two-mile to three-mile walks and requires no entry fees. Instead, participants are encouraged to raise funds to support awareness of the disease in their communities.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, you may want to consider signing up for the organization’s TrialMatch®. This valuable, free resource matches potential candidates with vital clinical trials, ultimately paving the way for a potential cure.