What is Alzheimer’s Disease* 

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that erodes memory and the ability to think, by damaging links within the brain’s communication system. However, this also damages the brain’s infrastructure, which reduces the brain’s ability to regulate normal body activity. Unfortunately, the brain’s attempts at self-repair leads to the formation of enlarged protein structures, which compounds the problem, and death occurs following 9 to 10 years.

A General Breakdown

When the disease first strikes (typically about a year before memory problems become noticeable), a ‘red flag’ episode may occur and may involve significant confusion, disorientation and/or agitation.  But because the disease is still localized, the surrounding communication patterns can compensate, and the individual seemingly returns to normal. While this may work as a temporary fix, it also makes the episode appear isolated, and potentially attributable to other factors.

As Alzheimer’s progresses the damage becomes greater than the brain’s ability to compensate, and memory loss (amnesias) generally involving recent events (short-term memory issues) begin to surface. This memory loss may seem sporadic, and side by side good days-bad days become noticeable. Additionally, as the inability to recall recent memory expands, the recall of distant memories fills the void, and the individual increasingly talks about the past.

Unfortunately, because reminders do not enable the recall of memories locked in amnesias (it is as if the memories never existed), this may give the appearance that the people they interact with are not being forthright, which may lead to paranoia, anxiety, depression, etc.  And while these issues may intensify into frustration, anger and behavioral/combative conditions, these intensified conditions may also develop due to physical changes occurring to the brain.

Once Alzheimer’s progresses into the moderate stages (roughly 4 – 5 years), typically, only distant memories are able to be recalled. For example, they can remember their childhood address, but not their current address, etc., and all conversations will involve people, places or events from way back.

Alzheimer’s next progresses into the advanced stages, the recall of distant memories begins to fail, and such issues as people recognition becomes common. For example, at any given time they may or may not recognize their spouse, or only recognize the person as familiar.

The inability to recall specific words also occurs and are commonly replaced by describing phrases. For example, in place of ‘keys’, they might say ‘those things the car needs’, or in place of ‘pen’, ‘that I write with.’ Although hallucinating has probably occurred, it may now be a fact of life, and they likely see (and hear) people that have died but remain within their fragmented distant memory. They may also: hallucinate people or ‘things’ stealing from them; begin to lose judgement/inhibitions, and may say or do out-of-character actions (including sexually); begin to ‘cubby-hole’ things (valuables) like keys, trinkets, etc. Additionally, ‘quirky’ activity such as placing shoes into the refrigerator or the oven may occur, and if they grew up in a colder climate, regardless of the temperature, they may heavily layer clothing.

Once the disease is well into the late stages (roughly after 6 years +), the condition commonly hits a downhill slide and their attention span that has continually shortened may now be nonexistent, and drift may occur before a verbal response is able to be made. In short, they may now have no sense of reality, with no rhyme or reason for what they say or do.

Of Note: Per research, regarding Alzheimer’s cases of 20+ years, not uncommonly, a pre-existing condition such as Bi-Polar Disorder may have pre-date the onset of Alzheimer’s, thereby leading to the interpretation that Alzheimer’s was the condition from the start.

In summary, due to the degenerative and overall damage caused by Alzheimer’s, research commonly indicates that end-of-life (EOL) arrives following 9 – 10 years. In short, the continual erosion of the brain’s infrastructure results not only with memory issues, but the declining ability to regulate and maintain a healthy body, which may lead to susceptibility to other life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia, organ failure, etc.

[Briefly, the normal brain performs maintenance and heightens repair activities during the sleeping hours. However, Alzheimer’s overtaxes the brain’s normal maintenance and repair schedule, which often results with an extended and intensified maintenance schedule, called Sundowner’s syndrome: a heightened state of anxiety, paranoia, irrationality, etc., that may begin in the evenings and run well into the night, and is a separate development from similarly described issues already mentioned due to memory loss.]

* Information contained is derived by way of research, in association with Assisted ElderCare Placements; P.O. Box 31171, Tucson, AZ. 520-870-5460; www.aecplacements.com

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