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What are Alzheimer’s symptoms?

There are four stages with Alzheimer’s – the early stage, middle stage, late stage, and end-of-life stage. 

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die. The Mayo Clinic reports that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia leading to a decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that prevent a person’s ability to function independently.

A 2012 study commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, notes that 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, which included, but was not limited to, dementia. In a 2010 report, the estimated prevalence of dementia alone was 500,000, based on previous studies in Canada and Europe. By contrast, based on administrative data from British Columbia, the estimated prevalence in Canada in 2011 was 340,000. It currently is the eighth leading cause of death in Canada. 

Early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease are forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, a person will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks. Medications may improve or slow the progress of symptoms. Treatments can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s disease by maximizing function and maintaining independence for a time but ultimately there is no cure or sustainable lifelong treatment. Alzheimer’s patients may see benefit by participating in local programs and services offered through the community. Most often these programs have support programs in place for both patients and their caregivers. 

Memory loss is the key symptom and as the disease progresses, memory impairments worsen, and other symptoms develop. Initially a person may be aware of having difficulty remembering things and organizing thoughts. A family member or friend may be more likely to notice how the symptoms worsen. Brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease lead to growing trouble with memory, thinking and reasoning skills, making judgments and decisions, planning and performing familiar tasks, changes in personality and behaviour and preserved skills. 

There are four states with Alzheimer’s, according to www.alzheimers.ca. There is the early stage, middle stage, late stage, and end-of-life stage. 

Early stage of Alzheimer’s disease can also be referred to as mild Alzheimer’s disease. It marks the beginning of significant changes for the individual and for loved ones. Most often in this stage individuals will retain many current abilities and require minimal assistance to perform daily tasks. With any new diagnosis, individuals may feel overwhelmed and apprehensive about the future. It is normal to have many mixed emotions, including grief and sadness. Some common symptoms in this stage are:

  1. Forgetfulness
  2. Difficulty learning new things or following conversations
  3. Difficulty concentrating or limited attention span
  4. Problems with orientation, getting lost, not being able to follow directions
  5. Communication difficulties
  6. Mood shifts, depression

The middle stage of Alzheimer’s (classified as moderate Alzheimer’s disease) is signalled by an increasing loss in cognitive and functional ability. It is the point where the caregiver’s involvement increases and may include moving the individual into a long-term care home. Individuals and families may benefit from enrolling in community support services such as respite care. With the increase in challenges and daily needs, this stage often feels the longest and everyone involved in the care of the person with Alzheimer’s disease will need help and support. Some common symptoms in the stage included:

  1. Memory problems become more pronounced i.e., Remembering name but not phone number or street address
  2. Sense of loss or insecurity
  3. Delusions or hallucinations
  4. Physical abilities decline- changes in appetite and or sleeping patterns

The late stage of the disease (classified as severe Alzheimer’s disease), individuals experience increased mental and physical deterioration and need 24-hour care. This stage is classified by individuals:

  1. Experiencing severe impairment in memory, ability to process information and orientation to time and place.
  2. Lose their capacity for recognizable speech, although words or phrases may occasionally be uttered; nonverbal communication will become increasingly important.
  3. Need help with eating and using the toilet and are often incontinent of urine and stool.
  4. Lose the ability to walk without assistance, then the ability to sit without support, the ability to smile, and the ability to hold their head up. The brain appears to no longer be able to tell the body what to do

The goal at this stage is to enhance the quality of life for the individual. Quality of life should be at the highest level of well-being possible – physically, mentally, and emotionally

If you are concerned about your memory or other thinking skills, talk to your doctor for a thorough assessment and diagnosis. If you are concerned about the thinking skills you observe in a family member or friend, talk about your concerns, and ask about going together to a doctor’s appointment.

Due to the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and rising prevalence of cases due to the aging population, it is of importance to find new medications and treatments to treat Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why clinical research is a crucial step in finding cures and treatments for current diseases where the need is so great. 

For more information, contact the Medical Arts Health Research Group at info@medicalartsresearch.ca or visit our website at https://www.healthresearch.ca.