here are 5 things to know right now

An estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and up are living with Alzheimer’s disease. The progressive disease is devastating and can cause symptoms ranging from memory loss to seizures, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

With that, it’s understandable to be nervous if you find you or a loved one has been forgotten lately. But there is a difference between being forgetful and having Alzheimer’s disease — and misplacing your keys here and there isn’t a reason to panic, Dr Gayari Devidirector of Park Avenue Neurology and attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, tells Yahoo Life. Still, it’s important to at least be aware of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s what you need to know.

How do you know if you're experiencing symptoms due to Alzheimer's disease or normal memory loss?  Experts weigh in.  (Picture: Getty)

How do you know if you’re experiencing symptoms due to Alzheimer’s disease or normal memory loss? Experts weigh in. (Picture: Getty)

1. Alzheimer’s disease: know the symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease “is an illness of the brain that occurs primarily in older people where brain cells start to die,” Devi says. There are a “multitude of factors” that can lead to this, including plaques and tangles in the brain, “which are protein deposits that we think cause harm to the brain cells,” Devi explains. Head injuries and hormones may also play a role, she says.

Dr. Gayari Devi, director of Park Avenue Neurology and attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital says there's a difference between being forgetful and having Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Gayari Devi, director of Park Avenue Neurology and attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital says there’s a difference between being forgetful and having Alzheimer’s disease.

When a person has Alzheimer’s disease, “the brain cells and the brain networks start to die [and] there is dysfunction in terms of the person’s ability to cognitively process things,” Devi says. As a result, she says, “they may have trouble with their memory, they may have trouble with their language, they may have trouble calculating. So depending on the cause, any number of things could go wrong.”

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary depending on the stage, per the NIA. Those include:

Mild Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Memory loss

  • Poor judgment leading to bad decisions

  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative

  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks

  • Repeat questions

  • Trouble handling money and paying bills

  • Wandering and getting lost

  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places

  • Mood and personality changes

  • Increased anxiety and/or aggression

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Increased memory loss and confusion

  • Inability to learn new things

  • Difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing, and working with numbers

  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically

  • Shortened attention span

  • Problems coping with new situations

  • Difficulty carrying out multi-step tasks, such as getting dressed

  • Problems recognizing family and friends

  • Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia

  • Impulsive behavior such as undressing at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language

  • Inappropriate outbursts of anger

  • Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, fearfulness, wandering—especially in the late afternoon or evening

  • Repetitive statements or movement, occasional muscle twitches

Severe Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Inability to communicate

  • weightloss

  • Seizures

  • Skin infections

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Groaning, moaning, or grunting

  • Increased sleeping

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

There are key differences between normal memory loss and Alzheimer's disease.  Here are some key differences.

There are key differences between normal memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some key differences.

2. Some level of forgetfulness is normal

Forgetting is actually an important part of life, Dr. Devi says. “Forgetting allows our brain to prune itself and to be able to adapt to the new environment,” she explains. “So as a child, we learn to forget to crawl in order to be able to walk. We learn to forget old traumas in order to be able to fall in love again. We learn to be able to forget childbirth, the pain of childbirth so that we can be pregnant again if we’re women.”

Devi says it’s can be “tough” sometimes to tell the difference between normal forgetfulness and early signs of Alzheimer’s. “If the forgetting interferes with your functioning, if the forgetting doesn’t get better, if it seems like it’s getting worse, then it’s time to seek help,” she says.

3. Alzheimer’s vs. dementia

The two are used interchangeably but they’re not the same. “Dementia is the umbrella term,” Devi says. “So any disease where there’s progressive loss of cognitive function related to the depth of nerve cells is called dementia. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.”

4. Lifestyle factors can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s

Devi says she often hears people concerned about their own health if they had a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s. “Between 40% and 60% of cases of dementia are preventable and preventable through simple, boring things like sleeping well and eating well,” she says. Exercising regularly, socializing, stimulating your brain, and reading can also help, she says.

“I find that my patients who are worried about getting Alzheimer’s because of a family history, they actually are living healthier lives because they want to prevent it and they end up having a lower risk than some of my patients who have no family history,” Devi says.

Experts say lifestyle is important in treating memory loss.

Experts say lifestyle is important in treating memory loss.

5. Early diagnosis is important

Catching an Alzheimer’s diagnosis early is “extremely important for treatment because the earlier you diagnose a person, the quicker you are able to help slow factors that can contribute to progressive decline,” Dr. Devi says. Memory screenings are covered by Medicare and many other health plans, and should be part of your annual checkup.

Factors that can help slow decline may include:

  • getting better control of blood pressure

  • controlling diabetes, if someone has it

  • controlling cholesterol

  • reducing drinking

  • increasing physical activity

“All those things will significantly improve their quality of life and help to prevent progression as rapidly as we didn’t do those things,” Dr. Devi says. “It translates into a few more years of functional life.”

Dr. Devi says that there are medications that can help as well. “There’s a sense of ‘What’s a point in the diagnosis? There’s nothing to do anyway.’ That is completely untrue,” she says.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Devi recommends that you “trust your brain, embrace your brain and help your brain fight this illness.” She adds, “don’t give up, don’t listen to what anyone else has to say. It’s your brain and you can help it go through this and help it to prevent decline as best as possible.”

And, if you’re a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Devi recommends that you do your best to include them in your activities and “treat them like they’re regular people.” She adds, “Don’t treat them like they’re in a glass container, but also don’t point out when they forget things because that doesn’t help anybody.”

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