Many people feel fatalistic about Alzheimer’s because the best-known risk factors age, family history, and certain genetic markers can’t be changed. Meanwhile, the best publicized way to reduce risk is to engage in mind-stimulating activities. Mental stimulation is important, says Maria Carrillo, PhD, director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. But the research shows an important connection between brain health and heart health.
It’s poorly publicized but true: Everything that raises risk for cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) also raises risk of Alzheimer’s. And everything that reduces cardiovascular risk helps prevent Alzheimer’s, according to recent research.
1. Memory loss. It’s normal to forget names occasionally. People with Alzheimer’s forget more and more over time.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. It’s normal to occasionally forget why you walked into a room. People with Alzheimer’s forget how to button shirts.
3. Problems with language. Everyone occasionally has trouble finding the right word. People with Alzheimer’s lose an increasing number of words and become hard to understand.
4. Disorientation. Anyone can feel disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings. People with Alzheimer’s become lost on familiar turf.
5. Socially inappropriate behavior. Anyone can make an occasional faux pas. People with Alzheimer’s stop bathing, or leave the house in their underwear.
6. Problems reasoning. Anyone can have trouble balancing a checkbook. People with Alzheimer’s forget what checks are for.
7. Seriously misplacing things. Anyone can misplace keys. People with Alzheimer’s do things like put them in the freezer.
8. Mood changes. Anyone can feel moody. People with Alzheimer’s may experience significant mood changes; from calm to rage for no apparent reason.
9. Personality changes. Normal people change over time, but are still recognizably themselves. People with Alzheimer’s become different people.
10. Passivity. Anyone can zone out in front of the TV. People with Alzheimer’s often become very passive, not wanting to do things they always enjoyed.
Alzheimer’s has three stages: early/mild, middle/moderate, and late/severe. The boundaries are fuzzy, but each stage has hallmarks. In early disease, victims retain enough cognitive function to understand that they have The Big A. Most are horrified, then depressed. Over time, they must relinquish everything that defined them as competent adults: driving, dressing, bathing, money management, and ultimately, independent living. Meanwhile, caregivers must deal with victims shock and depression and wrestle with their own feelings of loss while confiscating the car keys and checkbook. Emotionally, early Alzheimer’s is the hardest stage for everyone.