November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Today, more than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is only projected to grow over the next several decades.
Because the disease affects so many people, we want to help raise awareness about Alzheimer’s, the signs and symptoms of the disease, and diagnostics and treatments available to those living with Alzheimer’s.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that affects one in three seniors. It is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Many people confuse Alzheimer’s and dementia as synonymous. However, dementia is a term that describes symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that affects a person’s memory, behavior, and concentration.
Many people associate Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia with aging. While age is the primary risk factor, Alzheimer’s can begin to show itself in people younger than 65 years old, which is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s. The disease can begin to damage the brain before any symptoms or signs of memory loss begin to show.
Other risk factors of Alzheimer’s include family history and genetics. Research has also suggested that a person’s overall health and lifestyle can influence their likelihood of developing the disease.
What Are the Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?
When someone with Alzheimer’s has not yet been diagnosed, they may exhibit one or more signs of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are ten common signs of Alzheimer’s disease present in patients who have not yet been diagnosed.
- Memory loss that interrupts everyday tasks
- Difficult in planning and solving problems
- Trouble fulfilling familiar tasks
- Uncertainty or confusion with time or place
- Changes in vision
- Problems with speaking or writing words
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal social activities or work
- Shifts in mood and personality
It is essential to recognize these signs in loved ones. While forgetting the name of something may not be an immediate cause for concern, you should consult a medical professional if these behaviors continue.
What Are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gradually worsens over time. The three stages of Alzheimer’s are early (or mild), middle (or moderate), and late (or severe). The rate at which Alzheimer’s progresses varies for each patient. However, many patients live with worsening symptoms for four to eight years after their diagnosis.
The disease can begin to cause changes in the brain for many years before symptoms worsen enough to seek a diagnosis. This period is known as preclinical Alzheimer’s.
In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, patients may not show symptoms that are noticeable to family and friends. During this stage, patients often struggle to find the right word for an object or misplace belongings.
During the disease’s middle stage, symptoms will become more apparent, and the patient may get frustrated or even angry. Changes in behavior and sleep patterns and dressing inappropriately for the weather are two examples of symptoms of an Alzheimer’s patient in the middle stage of disease progression.
A patient’s symptoms will become severe in the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease. They may struggle to converse with others and control movement, including walking and standing. Late-stage Alzheimer’s is typically when patients require full-time assistance, which means they often move to long-term care or memory loss care facilities. In the late-stage, patients also grow susceptible to other illnesses, such as infections or pneumonia.
How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?
Early diagnosis is critical for prolonging a patient’s wellbeing and quality of life. An early diagnosis also helps patients make plans with their loved ones for their long-term care and handle any legal obligations like their will and finances.
More and more adults over a certain age are receiving cognitive evaluations at their yearly checkups. This allows general practitioners to track any changes in their patients that may cause concern but are not yet apparent.
Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed through a series of tests. If a patient is showing mild dementia symptoms, they should start by getting a cognitive exam. Many general practitioners can perform basic cognitive exams to determine if patients require further testing by specialists. To diagnose Alzheimer’s, the doctor will do the following:
- Review the patient’s medical history and their family’s medical history
- Perform a physical exam to evaluate diet and nutrition, medications, and overall health
- Test reflexes, coordination, speech, and sensation through neurological exams
- Use MRIs and CT scans to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s
- Perform mental status tests to evaluate memory and problem solving
Noticing the signs of Alzheimer’s disease early on in the disease progression is vital to an early diagnosis. When a patient receives an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis, they will receive treatments that slow progression and manage symptoms of the disease. An early diagnosis also gives patients a better chance of being qualified to participate in research studies.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association offers free resources and support to anyone affected by the disease.
How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?
Although millions of Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, there is still no cure for the degenerative illness. Fortunately, there are ways to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms and slow the disease’s progression.
Certain medications can help treat cognitive symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion. These drugs are approved to treat patients in the early to moderate stages of the disease. A healthy diet and daily activity will also help patients with Alzheimer’s maintain a better quality of life for as long as possible. For example, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids are great for brain health and may help patients who incorporate them into their diets.
Read our blog 12 Foods That Prevent Cognitive Decline to learn about foods that help boost brain health.
Many people have turned to alternative treatment options, including herbal remedies and dietary supplements. These options are not FDA-approved, and research is still being conducted on the safety and effectiveness of alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s.
Neurodegenerative Treatments at MRHPC
Dr. Van Camp’s interest in stem cell therapy began not too long after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. After learning about stem cell therapy from doctors in Florida, he performed treatments on his father for three years, which allowed him to live a high quality of life at home for as long as possible. Since then, Dr. Van Camp has conducted five research protocols and treated over 5,000 cases of various medical conditions using stem cell therapy.
At Midwest Regenerative Health and Pain Clinic, we see many patients for neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Stem cell therapy cannot cure these conditions, but it can help manage symptoms and slow progression.
Our treatment process starts with an initial consultation where we evaluate the patient’s medical history, perform a physical exam, and note any symptoms. We then perform the stem cell procedure, followed by appointments to evaluate the progress. If necessary, our doctors will refine the treatment to fit the patient’s needs, which means that all of our patients receive a treatment specifically designed for them.
Call us today at 913-745-5300 to schedule a consultation or learn more about how MRHPC can help patients with Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.