Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common neurological disorders in the world, and it’s the most common cause of dementia. In the United States, updated calculations and survey data estimate that about 6.2 million Americans over the age of 65 are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease as of 2021. That averages to about 1 in every 9 people age 65 and older is an Alzheimer’s patient.
Alzheimer’s disease is mainly associated with mental and cognitive issues, but the physiology of the disorder also means that Alzheimer’s may experience physical symptoms. Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and the physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s below.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, the neurologist who first identified the disorder, is a progressive neurological disorder. As a progressive disorder, an Alzheimer’s patient can get worse over time.
The exact cause of the cognitive decline is not currently known. However, research does understand that the brain function disease is characterized by the failing function of certain brain tissue proteins. The decline in these brain tissue proteins disrupts the normal function of brain cells, or neurons, which then triggers a series of effects. Over time, the neurons sustain damage, lose connections with each other and eventually die. The physiological result of this is brain shrinkage or atrophy.
There is currently no known cure for the brain function disease of Alzheimer’s. However, a variety of medications, therapies, and surgical procedures may help you manage physical signs and symptoms and slow down the disease’s progression. This can help you maximize your own independence and maintain cognitive and physical functions in your everyday.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
As mentioned, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is an umbrella term for a series of cognitive and emotional symptoms. Dementia is not a singular disease or disorder, and it can be caused by a variety of conditions characterized by abnormal brain changes. Dementia is a make-up of brain changes and diseases similar to Alzheimer’s that can manifest in numerous ways. Below are some of the most common.
One of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease is memory problems. You may have trouble remembering recent conversations or interactions. Forgetting things is fairly normal, but with Alzheimer’s, these memory issues are persistent and get worse over time leading to memory loss. As the mild cognitive impairment disease progresses, the memory issues may get so bad that you have trouble functioning in your everyday life.
A Memory problem can appear in different ways, including:
- Repeating questions or statements over and over, often within a short amount of time
- Misplacing objects, sometimes in illogical places
- Forgetting appointments, events, and conversations
- Getting lost at home or in other familiar locations
- Forgetting the names of loved ones
- Forgetting the words for identifying objects or thoughts, leading to difficulties with basic conversations
General Cognition Problems
Alzheimer’s disease makes general thought and concentration highly difficult. Numbers and other abstract concepts lose any meaning, and multitasking becomes close to impossible.
This extends to performing basic tasks that you were previously familiar with. This applies particularly to tasks that have sequential steps, like getting ready in the morning or preparing a meal. As the mild cognitive impairment progresses, you may have trouble bathing, dressing, or performing other everyday tasks.
Poor Judgment and Decision-Making
Alzheimer’s can contribute to poor judgment and uncharacteristic decisions. For example, you may wear shorts and a t-shirt despite knowing that it is snowing. You may make poor decisions in social interactions, and you may have trouble responding to everyday issues that come up, like missing a turn or burning food.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the changes to your brain can eventually affect your personality, mood, and behavior. You may become apathetic and socially withdrawn, and you may exhibit symptoms of depression. You may experience wild mood swings, going from pleasant to irritable and aggressive instantly. You may become delusional and lose all inhibitions.
Physical Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Although the emotional and mental symptoms are the most prominent, Alzheimer’s disease can potentially lead to physical symptoms. Some of these symptoms can occur in earlier stages, but many patients experience them in the middle or later stages of the disease. Remember, no two people with Alzheimer’s are the same, meaning that they may exhibit different symptoms of varying severity. Some physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
Changes to the brain can eventually affect your motor functions and mobility. Coordination can become difficult, requiring you to use a cane, walker, or other aid. You may experience tremors and muscle rigidity similar to Parkinson’s disease – which is why it’s important to know the difference between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The growing memory issues involved with Alzheimer’s can lead to repetitive actions. This can include constantly opening and closing drawers, checking to see if a door is locked, or refilling your pet’s food bowl even when it is already full.
As the disease progresses, you may begin to have trouble taking care of your personal hygiene. This can come from your memory issues, personality changes leading to apathy, or a mix of the two. Aside from the personal and social issues involved, poor hygiene can potentially contribute to ill health and a higher chance of getting sick.
Apraxia refers to an inability to perform certain motor skills that you could previously do without any problems. This can include smaller things like coughing, winking, or licking your lips when asked. On a larger scale, this can lead to problems using a TV remote or brushing your teeth.
Depression, apathy, and other mood changes brought on by Alzheimer’s can lead to extended periods of fatigue or a general lack of energy. You may generally feel a lack of motivation or personal drive, resulting in you taking more naps during the day.
Related to the above, Alzheimer’s disease can cause sleep problems and changes to your sleep cycle. You may have trouble getting a good night’s rest at night, which can increase your irritability and fatigue during the day.
Many Alzheimer’s patients also experience sundowner’s syndrome, also known as sundowning or late-day confusion. This is characterized by confusion and agitation in the evening hours, potentially lasting into the night and past bedtime.
As mentioned, the cognitive and memory issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease can result in you wandering or getting lost in familiar spaces. This tends to be more common in later stages of the disease, but it can manifest in milder forms in earlier stages, like always wanting to walk away or be somewhere else.
While cognitive issues are the most prominent symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the disease can present with potential physical symptoms. Some of these issues can be attributed to general problems associated with aging. However, it is important to understand that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. If you exhibit any symptoms or otherwise suspect that you or a loved one may have Alzheimer’s, consult your existing doctor or visit Immunity Therapy Center to get a clear diagnosis and determine the next steps for better health.
- Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s facts and figures. https://www.alz.org/media/documents/alzheimers-facts-and-figures.pdf
- Alzheimer’s Association. What is Alzheimer’s. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
- American Seniors Communities. The Physical Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. https://www.asccare.com/the-physical-symptoms-of-alzheimers/
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