Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that affects one’s memory and brain functions. It is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
Although it is not yet a disease that is understood, scientist and researchers believe that the causes of Alzheimer’s can be genetic and related to lifestyle and environmental factors. While no direct cause has been linked to the disease, unhealthy lifestyles can significantly increase a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s as well as other diseases. While it’s common in people of advanced aged, it is not a natural part of the aging process. Other risk factors can be past head trauma, lifestyle, and gender. Those with Down Syndrome and Mild Cognitive Impairment also have an increased chance of the disease. (Symptoms & Causes, 2017).
According to Progression of Alzheimer’s (2017), one of the main indications of Alzheimer’s disease is the build of amyloid plaques in the brain and twisted fibers found inside the brain’s nerve cells referred to as tangles. The tangles are a collapse of microtubule fibers made up of proteins that transport important substances between brain cells. Those who develop the disease are found to have loss of brain cells and brain shrinkage leading to memory loss and the inability to perform daily tasks and routines. These changes in the brain can occur long before symptoms of the disease can begin to occur. An absolute diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be made by the presence of these abnormalities in the brain and by the symptoms and the progression of symptoms over time. Some blood and spinal test have been developed, but to date are only slightly more accurate than a diagnosis based on the symptoms alone. (Mace & Rabins 2006)
Alzheimer’s can be identified in three basic stages: early stage, moderate stage, and the late stage. In the early stage, a person can still function on their own and interact socially and appear to be normal. They may be beginning to experience trouble remembering names or retaining new information and forgetting where they placed objects last. A person experiencing these symptoms may not think much of them as they occur and, in most cases, write them off as common forgetfulness. As the disease progresses to the moderate stage these symptoms can worsen and will be noticeable to those around them. They will likely be unable to perform a simple task such as showering, dressing and daily grooming on their own. He or she may become emotional and frustrated, sometimes causing uncharacteristic emotional outbursts. Personal details such as their own name or birthdate become harder to remember. Some individuals at this stage may start to lose control of their bodily functions and have trouble sleeping. The confusion can lead to depression and the need to isolate. There is also a higher risk for wandering and getting lost.
By the late stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals have lost full ability to interact and or respond to their surroundings. They may have the ability to communicate but can be incoherent, rambling things that do not make sense and can find it difficult to express their needs. There is a high likelihood that their personality would have changed significantly. He or she will need constant care and supervision in daily activities. The final stages of Alzheimer’s are marked by a severe decline in communication and ability to respond to their surroundings. They may even experience difficulty eating and swallowing. Individuals at this stage will also be more susceptible to other infections such as pneumonia and can become ill more frequently. (Stages of Alzheimer’s 2018)
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