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Our Mind Matters: Alzheimer’s Disease

A monthly article brought to you by Senior Services’ Memory Support Programs

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a term that gets a lot of attention because it has affected so many people. If you take a moment, you will likely be able to think of numerous people in your life, both past and present, that have been touched by this disease. Many think that Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are one and the same. However, Alzheimer’s Disease is just one type of dementia and it is considered to be the most common, accounting for 60-80% of all cases.

The brain changes that are associated with AD occur slowly over many years and begin in the area in the middle of the brain, which allows us to form new memories, called the hippocampus. Since the hippocampus is affected very early in the disease, people living with AD slowly lose their ability to make new memories. Family members will begin to notice that their loved ones are getting more forgetful, and may not recall recent events or remember conversations because the person is no longer able to retain new information due to the effects on the hippocampus.

So let’s take a general look at what is currently known about the cause of Alzheimer’s. The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells. With AD, these healthy nerve cells become damaged from a buildup of sticky clumps of proteins, called plaques, and twisted nerve fibers, called tangles. Plaques and tangles damage the healthy brain cells around them and they eventually die throughout the brain over many years. Over time, the affected areas of the brain will cause the person to experience a decline in memory, problem-solving, and other thinking skills.

So how does someone know if they have Alzheimer’s Disease? Well, this can be determined by a doctor, but it is important to watch out for some key indicators. The symptoms are mild at first but worsen over several years. These symptoms may include:

  • Forgetting how to use everyday items such as a microwave or a toothbrush
  • Holding a familiar object like car keys but not knowing what they are
  • Forgetting how to do common everyday activities such as cooking
  • Misplacing items and not being able to problem-solve to find them
  • Becoming suspicious, fearful or jealous
  • Increased difficulty finding the right words when speaking or writing
  • Repeating the same questions over a short period of time
  • Inability to remember recent events or conversations
  • Having poor judgment about how to behave appropriately in public
  • Confusion about place and time and changes in mood and personality

Despite its challenges, living with AD doesn’t mean that life can no longer bring happiness. People can continue living active and productive lives and remain socially engaged in activities they enjoy for many years.

If you are starting to notice memory changes, early detection is key. Senior Services offers an array of memory support programs including confidential memory screenings to obtain a cognitive baseline, early memory loss programs, and educational classes, along with support from Seasons Adult Day Health Services. If you or someone you know is experiencing increasing changes with their memory and could benefit from additional services, please contact Amy Sheridan, Family Support and Activity Manager at 989-633-3764.

Check out our section, Our Mind Matters, next month as we will dive into Vascular Dementia, the second most common type.

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