Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease

October 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

Alz imageAlzheimer’s disease frequently ranks among the greatest health fears. However, it is a misperception that Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging. Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease explains the normal changes with typical aging compared to the development of cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.  By identifying a disorder in its earliest stages, scientists hope to catch Alzheimer’s when it may be most treatable. An Action Guide is included to help deal with practical issues surrounding the disease.

Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease describes the structures of the brain to illustrate typical aging changes. For most people, it may become harder to recall information that you feel you should know easily, such as the title of a book you finished reading recently or a best friend’s birthday. These momentary lapses of memory are often brought on by distraction or inattention. Overlooking an appointment or losing your wallet can be the result of doing too many things at once and not paying attention to any one thing.

Besides challenges with memory, your brain may require more processing time for complex problems when compared with 30 or 40-year-olds. Given adequate time, older adults deliver effective solutions equal to younger adults. Making sense of new or unfamiliar information may be more difficult as you age. It may take more instruction and a little more time to master new skills. However, older adults have often gained a rich vocabulary and wisdom infused with insight and knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of experiences.

Alzheimer’s disease involves more than memory loss. Examples of abnormal aging and dementia include difficulties with reasoning, making decisions and remembering, as well as changes in personality. Periods of confusion are frequent, along with difficulties with concentration, expressing ideas clearly, calculating numbers, and controlling emotions. These symptoms can affect the ability to carry out daily living tasks.

Scientists have discovered that physical and chemical changes in the brain can begin long before any symptoms or signs. Cognitive status can be more accurately described on a wide, continuous range with normal on one end of the spectrum and dementia on the other end with severely disrupted cognitive skills. How much cognition is impaired varies. Some people may become a little more forgetful but have no other symptoms. Other people may be challenged in grasping new ideas, keeping up with conversations, in addition to memory issues.

Many factors may reduce or disrupt cognition including disease, genetic inheritance, substance abuse, general wear and tear, injury and trauma. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease typically begin in people in their mid-60s. As the disease spreads in the brain, more cognitive skills become affected. Dementia marks the end of this degenerative process with severe impairment.

Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease explains that dementia is not a disease, but a syndrome with a collection of signs and symptoms caused by disease. A wide variety of diseases and conditions can cause dementia which indicates certain cognitive functions have become severely impaired. The most common dysfunctions include difficulty communicating, inability to learn new information, inability to reason, memory loss, difficulty with planning and organizing, personality changes, difficulty with coordination and motor function, paranoia, agitation, and hallucinations.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of dementia and serious cognitive impairment. Additional causes of dementia are described and include Parkinson’s disease, vascular disorders, infection, reaction to medication, brain tumor, heart and lung problems, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic or endocrine imbalances, substance abuse, chronic alcoholism, and other diseases. Causes of dementia-like symptoms such as depression and delirium may mimic dementia, but both are treatable.

In addition to describing typical aging, abnormal aging and dementia, and diagnosis of abnormal signs and symptoms, Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease thoroughly reviews the basics and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, treatment and research trends, and promising strategies to improve cognition. Some steps may increase your resilience to Alzheimer’s disease, such as using cross-training your brain.

In brain training, be consistent, vary your routine, target a range of skills, such as jigsaw puzzles, attend classical music concerts and lectures, challenge yourself, focus on speed, and test your limits. Hundreds of options are available for brain retraining including books, websites, smartphone applications and computer software programs. Paid and free online programs, games and puzzles are also listed. Lifelong learning and mental stimulation can enrich your life.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle helps prevent conditions that may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Research links regular physical exercise to better brain function and lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia. In one study of adults age 65 and older, the risk of developing  dementia was 35 to 40 percent lower for those who exercise three or more times a week. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may also be associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

For an easy, two-week, quick-start program to better brain health, eat 5 servings of vegetables and fruits every day, move 10 minutes more than you typically do every day, and sleep 8 hours every night. Additionally, learn to manage stress, drink alcohol in moderation, stop smoking and establish a bedtime routine that keeps the television and computer out of your bedroom to help improve sleep.

Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease includes an Action Guide for Caregivers that includes information on coming to terms with the diagnosis, becoming a caregiver, developing a care plan, taking care of yourself, good communication, activities of daily living, challenging behaviors, housing and care options, travel and safety, and health concerns.

By learning to live in the moment rather than worrying about the future, engaging in activities that protect your memory and other cognitive skills, and focusing on factors you can control, the life you create can be rich, stimulating and fulfilling.

Debbie L. Fuehrer, L.P.C.C.

Complementary & Integrative Medicine Program

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