Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. The condition occurs when certain proteins and fibers accumulate in the brain that damage the brain’s nerve cells. It is a disorder characterized by a gradual loss of brain function.
A person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease will have difficulty thinking clearly, remembering past events, and controlling their emotions.
It is important that Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed early. Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease worsen over time. Although there is no cure, it may be possible to slow down the progression of the disease with treatment.
Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis
Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is made only after ruling out other conditions that also affect brain function, such as tumors, strokes, or an underactive thyroid.
Before diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, a doctor will perform a neurological exam and psychiatric evaluation to test cognitive function. There is a battery of tests to check memory, critical thinking, reasoning, language skills, visual perception, reflexes, attention, and concentration.
A doctor may also perform one or more brain scans:
A CT scan (computed tomography scan) is an imaging test that provides cross-sectional images of the brain. The CT scan will be evaluated for evidence of a blood clot, stroke or tumor.
An PT scan (positron-emission tomography) will produce a detailed, high-resolution image of the brain. This test is frequently used to detect accumulation of amyloid proteins (plaques) in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease Therapies
The following is an overview of conventional and alternative therapies to treat and ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Medication has been shown to ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Medications are often prescribed to boost the chemical messengers in the brain that are responsible for memory and cognition.
Some sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease will also benefit from medications to treat depression, sleep disturbances and agitation associated with the condition.
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to accumulation of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to get the recommended 7 -9 hours.
A therapist can visit the home and teach coping mechanisms for dealing with memory loss and confusion. For example, it is often helpful to break big tasks down into simple steps.
An occupational therapist may recommend modifying the home environment. Reducing noise and clutter can help a sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease accomplish tasks with minimal distraction.
Also, placing labels on doors, light switches, and cabinets can help them find their way around the home. It may be necessary to remove or hide objects that could cause harm, such as knives, scissors and car keys.
Daily Structure and Routine
Establishing a daily structure and routine can significantly improve the quality of life for a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It helps to keep a calendar to remember upcoming events, daily activities and medication times.
Eating a balanced, brain-healthy diet can help promote cognition and memory. Eat fish once a week. A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids has been linked to a reduction in the accumulation of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Everyone needs exercise. Low-impact, moderate daily exercise helps the body release endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce stress and promote a feeling of wellbeing.
Many people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease benefit from a regular relaxation massage, which helps calm the nervous system. This eases the symptoms of irritability and agitation.
Regular interaction with pets promotes relaxation and improves mood in people with Alzheimer’s. There are many nonprofit organizations that provide service animals to disabled persons. Check your local listings.
Art and Music Therapy
Art and music therapy can help reduce irritability and depression. Art therapy involves making art with the hands, such as painting, sculpting or drawing. Music therapy involves listening to soothing music or making music, for example, singing along to music or participating in a drum circle.
Alzheimer’s Disease– Planning for the Future
Because Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness that gets worse over time, it is important to plan for the future.
Most people living with Alzheimer’s disease will eventually need around the clock care. Things to consider include: legal issues (for example, getting a power of attorney), financial goals and future care when the individual needs 24/7 assistance.
There are many support groups for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their family members. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for more information: www.alz.org.