A Quick Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease
Discover Alzheimer’s stages, symptoms, effects on the brain, and how you can get involved in clinical trials.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed after you or a loved one has received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, know that you’re not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates nearly 6 million adults in the United States live with Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a disease that progressively degrades the brain’s ability to think, recall information, and function. It’s often accompanied by mood and behavior changes.
Alzheimer’s is a subtype of dementia and usually appears after 65 years old.
While many of us experience more forgetfulness as we age, this is distinct from the persistent and worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s that end up inhibiting daily function.
Symptoms and Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s becomes more severe over time, requiring hands-on support in its final stages.
Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
In the early stages, Alzheimer’s symptoms mirror mild dementia and are typically manageable.
Early symptoms can include:
- Losing your train of thought
- Forgetting conversations or events
- Misplacing items
- Trouble finding the right words or names
- Repeating questions
- Forgetting where you are or where you are going
- Difficulty making decisions
Loved ones will often notice changes before the individual at this stage. This is the ideal time to create plans for the future, as the person with Alzheimer’s can still participate in decision-making.
Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
At this point, damage has affected brain regions responsible for reasoning, language, thinking, and sensory processing.
Moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms can include:
- Difficulty recalling personal information (e.g., names of friends and family, your address, your telephone number)
- Increases in moodiness and withdrawal from social situations
- More wandering and disorientation
- Requiring support for multi-step activities (e.g., getting dressed)
- Behavioral shifts (e.g., heightened paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive behaviors like wringing hands.)
- Changes to sleep patterns
In this stage, people with Alzheimer’s can still participate in activities with caregiver support. It’s wise for caregivers to begin building a support system and scheduling breaks to support their mental well-being.
Severe, Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
In the final stage of Alzheimer’s, the brain’s ability to think is disrupted to such an extent that around-the-clock caregiving is essential.
Late-stage symptoms may include:
- Losing the ability to communicate
- Difficulty moving, sitting, or swallowing
- Being bed-ridden
- Increased susceptibility to infections
At this stage, someone with Alzheimer’s may not be able to engage much. However, heartfelt interactions like gentle touch or listening to their favorite songs can still feel soothing.
How Alzheimer’s Affects the Brain
While we’re still learning about Alzheimer’s, researchers have found its development likely comes from the combined effects of genetics, environment, and lifestyle.
Regarding the neuroscience of Alzheimer’s, researchers have narrowed in on two key culprits: plaques and tangles:
- Plaques are collections of protein fragments called beta amyloids that get stuck between cells.
- Tangles are groups of twisted fibers made of tau proteins that build up within cells.
It’s believed that plaques and tangles disrupt key cellular processes by blocking communication throughout the brain. This leads to the death and damage of nerve cells that define Alzheimer’s.
Options for Alzheimer’s Disease
Currently, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, the world’s leading neuroscience experts are hard at work investigating avenues for better care.
Support through Caregivers
Right now, the best way to support loved ones with Alzheimer’s is with a caregiver. If you are a caregiver, either professionally or for someone you love, make sure you have support and self-care systems in place to help prevent burnout. Caregiving for someone in the later stages of Alzheimer’s is a 24/7 job, so planning breaks and connecting with other caregivers can provide the additional emotional support and community care you’ll need to stay well in the long run.
Clinical Research Trials
Here at Wake Research, we often have ongoing clinical research trials seeking individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. These clinical trials are essential to unlocking the nuances of how Alzheimer’s works and testing out new care approaches that could help with Alzheimer’s symptoms in the future.