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Alzheimer disease (AD)
is a brain disorder that causes memory loss over time. Parts of the brain die and cannot make normal levels of brain chemicals. This causes problems with how you think, behave, and remember things. The disease usually starts at about age 65 to 70 years but can start earlier. The exact cause of AD is not known.
Common signs and symptoms of mild AD:
Early AD symptoms may be minor and last from 1 to 3 years.
- Remembering what happened years ago but not what happened yesterday
- Forgetting the names of common things or people you know
- Confusion about what month or season it is
- Forgetting to brush your teeth or comb your hair
- Trouble taking care of your home or finances or difficulty making decisions
- Loss of interest in your usual activities
- Feeling depressed, angry, or confused about the changes you notice
Common signs and symptoms of moderate AD:
- Problems choosing clothes to wear, doing simple jobs, or caring for yourself
- Not recognizing people familiar to you
- Trouble finding words to say what you mean or talking in normal sentences, or speech that is hard to understand
- Feeling anxious, restless, and agitated at night and seeming depressed or worried
- Trouble controlling emotions and becoming loud, violent, and hard to control
- Becoming confused and wandering off or pacing
- Not being able to plan and follow through with activities
- Thinking something is true even though it is not, or seeing things that are not actually there
- Trouble controlling when you urinate or have a bowel movement
Common signs and symptoms of severe AD:
- Complete loss of memory
- Complete loss of speech
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Trouble walking
- Becoming angry and out of control or aggressive and destroying things
- Not being able to care for yourself and needing someone to take care of you
Call your doctor or neurologist if:
- You have a fever.
- You have a rash or your skin is itchy and swollen.
- You are depressed and have difficulty coping with your symptoms.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
AD cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Treatment includes keeping a good quality of life, for as long as possible. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the most current treatment available. Your healthcare provider may suggest one or more of the following:
- Medicines may be given to help you think better or to slow the death of brain cells. You may also need medicines to help you feel less depressed, anxious, angry, or restless. These medicines can also help you sleep better. Medicines can also help with bladder and bowel control or to control delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations.
- Counseling (talk therapy) can help you find ways to cope with AD. You may work only with a counselor, or also with family members or others with AD. Counseling may help you talk about your feelings. You may learn ways to control your actions and emotions. Stimulation therapy can help keep your mind active. Counselors may use music, art, or animals in this type of therapy.
You may have a family member or friend who can help you with daily tasks. Your healthcare provider can give you information on how to find someone if needed. The person can help set up alarms or timers to remind you to eat, take medicines, and use the bathroom. He or she may be able to help you prepare meals, bathe, and get to appointments. The kind of help you need will change over time. The following can help you manage AD:
- Place clocks and calendars where you can see them. This will help you remember appointments and tasks.
- Keep activities the same from day to day. Take breaks often. Save difficult activities for when you are the most alert. Choose activities you are interested in doing.
- Keep mealtimes at the same time each day. Your healthcare providers can help you create a meal plan.
- Create a bathroom schedule. An example is going every 4 hours.
- Limit the amount of liquid you drink in the evening. This may help you sleep through the night. Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
- Keep your mind and body active. Call or visit people often. This will keep your social skills sharp, and may help reduce depression. Do activities that you love, such as art, gardening, or listening to music. Regular physical activity, such as exercise, may help if you feel depressed or anxious. Exercise can also help you sleep better.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause blood vessel damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
Ask someone to go with you to help you remember what your healthcare provider tells you. The person can take notes for you during the visit and go over the notes with you later. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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