The Basics Of Alzheimer’s, And How It Affects Everyone

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Majority owner, president, and CEO Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos watches as quarterback Peyton Manning speaks during a news conference announcing Manning's contract with the Denver Broncos in the team meeting room at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre on March 20, 2012 in Englewood.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Majority owner, president, and CEO Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos watches as quarterback Peyton Manning speaks during a news conference announcing Manning’s contract with the Denver Broncos in the team meeting room at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre on March 20, 2012 in Englewood. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Dr. Dave Hnida By Dr. Dave Hnida
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If you don’t know someone with Alzheimer’s, odds are you know someone who cares for someone with the disease. It is one of the most rapidly growing disorders in America—mainly because more people are living longer—and with age, comes a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.

And as we learned today, Pat Bowlen is one of the more than 5 million Americans who suffer from the disease.

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia- that means a loss of brain function. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for more than 75 percent of cases of the brain not functioning. Other causes of dementia include things such as blood vessel disease deep in the brain.

The most common age to develop symptoms is after age 65; although we believe some of the damage to brain cells that take place with the disease begins about 10 years earlier-but without noticeable symptoms.

We don’t know what causes brain cells to stop working and die in Alzheimer’s — family history and genetics are major risk factors, although things such as heart disease and a history of head injuries may contribute as well. The simple act of getting older is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

RELATED: Denver Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen Resigns Control, Battling Alzheimer’s

The symptoms vary and are subtle in the early stages. These symptoms are usually first noticed by family members and close friends.

They include memory loss and forgetfulness, especially of recent events or things.

Poor judgment and mood swings can be common symptoms as well. Attention span can be poor, and some people develop personality changes.

We don’t think there are any surefire ways to prevent Alzheimer’s although we know exercise, a heart healthy diet, and being a non-smoker may help.

There is no cure, and the progression, or worsening, of the disease is different from person to person. The average life expectancy after formal diagnosis is eight years, with a general range of 4-20 years.

We do have some medications that may help ease some symptoms, but their track records so far have been poor. That’s why there is a big push for more research. More than 90 percent of what we know about the disease has been learned within the past 15 years. There is hope!

At this point, the most important thing to know about Alzheimer’s is that it’s a tough disease, and patients and their families need all of the love and support that we can give.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the Bowlen family. …

Here is a good informational sheet about signs and symptoms from the Alzheimer’s Association:

Have you noticed any of these warning signs? Please list any concerns you have and take this sheet with you to the doctor.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. What’s typical? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. What’s typical? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. What’s typical? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

4. Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. What’s typical? Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not recognize their own reflection. What’s typical? Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a watch a “hand clock”). What’s typical? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. What’s typical? Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.

8. Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. What’s typical? Making a bad decision once in a while.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. What’s typical? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

10. Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. What’s typical? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

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