Alzheimer’s and Dementia: what are they & how critical are they?

Alzheimer’s is a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases.

Alzheimer’s is not a “normal” part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 years and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Younger-onset (also known as early-onset) Alzheimer’s affects people younger than the age of 65.

The disease worsens over time thus is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s but treatments for symptoms are available as research continues.

Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

According to the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Organization of Kenya, health care providers generally don’t look for Alzheimer’s disease in younger people, thus getting an accurate diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s can be a long and frustrating process.

Symptoms may be incorrectly attributed to stress or there may be conflicting diagnoses from different healthcare professionals.

Mitigating the disorder

People who have early onset Alzheimer’s may be in any stage of dementia – early stage, middle stage, or late stage. The disease affects each person differently and symptoms vary.

It is, therefore, advised to get a medical evaluation if you are experiencing memory problems. This should be done by a doctor who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease. Getting a diagnosis involves a medical exam and possibly cognitive tests, a neurological exam, or brain imaging.

Some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s include forgetting recent information, names, appointments, having difficulty in concentration, trouble recognizing familiar locations. They also keep repeating themselves and lose track of time and place.

Keep in mind that there is no one test that confirms Alzheimer’s disease.

A diagnosis is only made after a comprehensive medical evaluation. As the disease progresses to its last stages, brain changes begin to affect physical functions, such as swallowing, balance, and bowel and bladder control.

These effects can increase vulnerability to additional health problems such as inhaling food or liquid into the lungs (aspiration) flu, pneumonia and other infections, falls and fractures, malnutrition or dehydration, constipation or diarrhea, dental problems such as mouth sores or tooth decay.

While the disease devastates the brain, it does not kill you. Complications of the decline in brain function is what leads to death.

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