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 of AD.
- Memory loss, including not recognizing friends and family members
- 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 a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - we call these core causes the underlying factors of anxiety - a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated June 2015.