Alzheimer's disease can change your life. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing what to expect in each stage of the disease will take some of the mystery and stress away if you have the disease or if you are caring for a loved one.
Can’t remember where you put your car keys? Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you went in? Do you occasionally forget everyday words? Everyone forgets things now and then. It’s a normal part of life. Is your forgetfulness normal or is it Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It is estimated that 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. This number has alarmingly doubled since 1980.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain. Normally, nerve cells (called neurons) transmit impulses to and from the brain, enabling us to carry out mental and physical activities. When Alzheimer’s disease is present, the spaces between the neurons clog up with protein deposits called plaques. Normally these proteins are broken down and eliminated, but in Alzheimer’s disease they accumulate. These proteins get tangled up inside the neuron. These are called tangles. The presence of plaques and tangles prevents the normal transmission of impulses in the neurons, thereby affecting learning and memory cells.
Alzheimer’s disease impairs our cognitive ability, or the mental processes by which we think. Degeneration of the brain’s nerve cells begins years before symptoms appear. Nerve cell damage begins in our learning and memory cells. Over time, it spreads to the brain cells that are responsible for our judgment and behavior, and then coordination and physical movement. The average length of time from diagnosis to death is eight years; however an Alzheimer’s patient can live from three to twenty years.