Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a degenerative
and progressive brain disease that results in impaired memory,
thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia
in the elderly and affects at least three to four million people
in the United States.
People with AD experience gradual memory loss as well as impaired
judgement, difficulty concentrating, loss of language skills,
personality changes, and a decline in the ability to learn
new tasks. Memory loss usually begins at about age 65 and symptoms
tend to become severe within 8 to 10 years. In some cases,
symptoms may appear earlier in life and advance at a faster
or slower rate, but most people who develop symptoms before
the age of 60 tend to have more severe forms of the disease.
Currently, there is no cure for AD, but studies suggest that
medications, herbs and supplements, and lifestyle adjustments
may all help to slow the progression and improve the symptoms
of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
The early symptoms of AD are occasionally overlooked because
they resemble signs that many people attribute to "natural
aging." The following are the most common signs and symptoms
- Memory loss, including not recognizing friends and family
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty comprehending words, completing sentences, or
finding the right words
- Loss of familiarity with surroundings, wandering aimlessly
- Hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis
- Aggression, agitation, anxiety, restlessness
- Accusatory behaviors (such as accusations of spousal infidelity)
- Withdrawal, disinterest, hostility, loss of inhibitions
- Physical Symptoms
- Impaired movement or coordination
- Muscle rigidity, shuffling or dragging feet while walking
- Insomnia or disturbances in sleep patterns
- Weight loss
- Muscle twitching or seizures
While many of these symptoms are similar to anxiety symptoms,
a thorough medical evaluation
There is no definitive test for AD, and a true diagnosis of
AD can only be made after a person dies and an autopsy is performed
on the brain. All individuals with AD have an accumulation of
abnormal deposits (called plaque) and tangled nerve cells in
their brains. The physician will try to narrow down a diagnosis,
however, by eliminating the possibility of other illnesses. He
or she will ask the individual (or a close family member) to
describe the primary symptoms, and how long they have been noticeable.
The following tests may also be used to aid in the diagnosis.
- Psychological tests—assess the individual's memory
and attention span. They may also reveal difficulties in
problem-solving, social, and language skills.
- Electroencephalograph (EEG)—traces brain-wave activity.
This test sometimes reveals "slow waves" in people
with AD. Although other diseases may reveal similar brain-wave
activity, EEGs help distinguish a person with AD from a severely
depressed person, whose brain waves are normal.
- Imaging tests (such as CT, MRI, or PET)—computerized
tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect
the presence of stroke, blood clots, and tumors (problems that
cause AD-like symptoms but are not themselves related to AD).
MRI, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and other advanced
imaging techniques may eventually be able to diagnose AD by
identifying altered blood flow patterns in the brain.
- Blood test for Apo E4—although the presence of Apo
E4 gene in the blood may suggest AD, it does not always make
an accurate diagnosis.
For more information: http://adear.niapublications.org/pubs/adfact.html
NOTE: We highly recommend that
you have a complete medical evaluation done anytime you have
a medical concern. Medical professionals are well trained to
identify serious medical conditions. It's recommended that you
fully describe your symptoms to your doctor, then work with her/him
through to the correct diagnosis.
While there are many anxiety-like medical
conditions, most conditions have uniquely identifiable symptoms
UNCOMMON to anxiety. If you have seen your doctor and he/she
has ruled out this anxiety-like medical condition, you can
feel confident that their diagnosis is correct. If, however,
you feel he/she has missed something, you should persist with
your doctor until you are satisfied. You may also want to get
second and even third opinions if you are still unsatisfied.
Because it is common for anxiety sufferers to
'over worry' about their symptoms (since so many conditions produce
anxiety-like symptoms we often scare ourselves when we look at
all of the conditions we COULD have), having a thorough medical
evaluation completed will most often alleviate these fears.