What Is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disorder that is characterized by memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioral changes. Symptoms worsen over time, usually over several years, and can have a severe effect on performing daily tasks and activities.

Alzheimer’s is considered a terminal condition, with an average life expectancy of 4 to 8 years after diagnosis, though some individuals live 15 or 20 years after their initial diagnosis. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Roughly 5.5 million Americans, the vast majority of whom are over the age of 65, are living with Alzheimer’s. Early Onset Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, affects approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

If you have a loved one who has recently been diagnosed, you likely have many questions. This FAQ gives you answers from care professionals at Visiting Angels®. Learn more about Alzheimer’s below.

What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a wide range of brain disorders that are characterized by memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. According to estimates, Alzheimer’s cases account for somewhere between 60% to 80% of all cases of dementia.

It’s therefore true that everyone with Alzheimer’s has dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s. Individuals who are living with vascular dementia, for instance, will suffer symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s, but the cause of their dementia is different.

What are the risk factors for Alzheimer’s?

While scientists are still researching the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have identified a number of risk factors.

The three biggest risk factors are as follows:

  • Advanced Age. In the vast majority of cases, symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin after the age of 65.
  • Genetics. Individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s are at higher risk of developing the disease themselves.
  • Heart Health. Poor cardiovascular health increases one’s risk. Individuals with a history of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, or cardiac arrest will be at higher risk.

Other risk factors include

  • Sleeping problems
  • High stress levels
  • Heavy smoking
  • Heavy drinking
  • History of head trauma
  • Exposure to air pollution

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Most symptoms, particularly early signs of Alzheimer’s, are expressed through a person’s speech, thought patterns, and behaviors.

The most prominent symptoms include:

  • Short-term and long-term memory loss
  • Trouble solving simple problems
  • Uncommon struggles with day-to-day activities
  • Words forgotten or mixed up
  • Items lost more frequently
  • Confusion about current time or place
  • Confusion about the names and identities of people
  • Irrational, irritable, or depressed behaviors and actions

How does Alzheimer’s disease progress?

Researchers believe the disease begins many years before people with Alzheimer’s begin to show any indications. Symptoms typically start to appear in old adults, though some cases of Alzheimer’s begin in a person’s 40’s or 50’s. Alzheimer’s is a gradual, progressive disease, with symptoms becoming worse over a period of years.

At first, symptoms will be mild and will have minimal impact on the person’s well-being. As the disease progresses, symptoms develop from mild to moderate to severe. By the final stages of the disease, the person may lose all short-term and long-term memory, the ability to speak and to understand speech, and the ability to perform basic personal activities, such as how to use the bathroom or eat on their own. Learn how to prepare for the stages of Alzheimer’s.

Does Alzheimer’s disease have a cure?

Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and the disease’s progress is believed to be irreversible. While scientists continue to search for a cure, modern treatments and clinical trials are limited to slowing the onset of the disease, delaying its initial symptoms, or reducing its progress.

Doctors recommend that individuals at risk or living with Alzheimer’s disease focus on healthy lifestyle choices, particularly focusing on cardiovascular health. Interventions such as improved sleep habits, increased omega-3 intake, and decreased stress are also proven to reduce the risk.

What are my loved one’s options for Alzheimer’s care?

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, individuals living with the disease require high levels of care to ensure their well-being and safety. Individuals with early stage and mid-stage Alzheimer’s are typically cared for by friends or family. But as the disease reaches its later stages, professional Alzheimer’s care is often required.

One option for care is moving your loved one into a nursing care facility. However, this can be traumatic for individuals with Alzheimer’s, and it is typically considered a last resort.

Another option is to hire Alzheimer’s home care services, such as those offered by your local Visiting Angels. This specialized in-home care helps individuals age in place with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s home care is distinct from traditional home care, since individuals with Alzheimer’s have distinct care needs from other seniors. Visiting Angels' specialized care is designed around the unique challenges of the disease, as well as the recipient’s individual care needs. Care is provided in the comfort of the recipient’s home, and services are performed by caregivers who are uniquely qualified to care for individuals living with Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s care services offered by Visiting Angels today, or contact your local Visiting Angels office to request a free consultation.

Each Visiting Angels agency is a franchise that is independently owned and operated. The Franchisor, Living Assistance Services Inc., does not control or manage the day to day business operations of any Visiting Angels franchised agency.