50. Alzheimer’s Disease: Making Up for Poor Memory

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia – a broad term that means cognitive function declines enough to interfere with daily life activities. Nearly half of people age 85 and older may have AD, but it is not a normal part of aging.

With AD, certain protein deposits (plaques) and twisted fibers (tangles) build up in the brain. Over time, this causes large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to die.

The Alzheimer’s Association gives the following warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life.

  2. Problems doing familiar tasks.

  3. New problems speaking or writing.

  4. Problems with visual images and spatial relationships.

  5. Difficulty with planning and/or solving problems.

  6. Problems with awareness of time and place.

  7. Misplacing things.

  8. Poor or decreased judgement.

  9. Changes in mood or personality.

  10. Withdrawal from social activities and work.

If someone you care about shows warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, see that they get medical attention to confirm (or rule out) the diagnosis. Not everything that looks like Alzheimer’s is Alzheimer’s. Brain tumors, blood clots in the brain, severe vitamin B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, and side effects of some drugs can mimic Alzheimer’s disease. (Unlike Alzheimer’s, these problems can be treated.)

Certain prescription medicines, if given in the early stages of the disease, may help with memory in some persons. Sometimes medications to treat depression, paranoia, and agitation can minimize symptoms, but will not necessarily improve memory.

It’s especially helpful to put structure in the life of someone who’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Some suggestions include:

  1. Maintain daily routines.

  2. Post reminders on an oversized and prominently displayed calendar.

  3. Put things in their proper places after use. Doing this helps the person with Alzheimer’s find things when he or she needs them.

  4. Post safety signs (like “turn off the stove”) at appropriate places throughout the house. Make “to do” lists of daily tasks. Pictures and icons are more useful than written notes.

Also, see that the person with Alzheimer’s eats well-balanced meals, goes for walks with family members, and otherwise continues to be as active as possible. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease should wear medical identification tags.

Chapter 2
  1. Major Medical Conditions:

  2. Prevention, Detection, and Treatment