Understand Alzheimer’s Disease – Symptoms, Causes, & How You Can Help

In case you didn’t know, June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month – a time to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia and contribute to the fight to eradicate these debilitating diseases once and for all. In honor of this month, we wanted to give you the facts about Alzheimer ’s disease and offer a few ways that you can help find the cure!

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is an irreversible brain disorder that causes the cells in your brain to degenerate and die, resulting in memory loss, a decline in behavioral and social skills, the inability to perform everyday tasks, and, eventually, loss of life.

The disease was discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 after he examined the brain of a patient who had died from an unusual mental illness. What he discovered were clumps of something called amyloid plaques, as well as tangles of tau proteins, on the patient’s brain. These clumps and tangle, now the most prominent signifier of Alzheimer’s, destroy connections between nerve cells in the brain, which, in turn, cause the breakdown of brain cells and functionality.

Though some treatments exist that may help the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, there is currently no cure and no way to slow or stop the progression of the disease.

What Are The Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s?

The earliest and primary symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. In the beginning stages, this symptom will present itself as:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events and conversations
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts
  • Repeating statements and questions
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Routinely misplacing possessions

The memory loss will progress and worsen as time goes on, eventually leading to the inability to remember or recognize family members and everyday objects. They may also confuse the time and place of past events.

Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking
  • Planning and performing simple or familiar tasks
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Wandering
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Delusions

Understand, however, that the severity and progression of symptoms will vary from person to person. And many skills – such as listening to music, dancing, drawing, or singing – may remain intact, even as other symptoms worsen.

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

The exact causes of Alzheimer’s still aren’t fully understood by the medical community. However, it’s widely believed that, for most, the disease is caused by a combination of lifestyle and environmental factors.

There are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. These include:

  • Age – This is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Though not a normal part of aging, the chances of developing Alzheimer’s increases the older you get. Those who do develop this disease will often start to show symptoms in their mid-60s and 70s.
  • Family history and genetics – If a first-degree relative develops Alzheimer’s, such as a parent or sibling, then your chances may be higher.
  • Down syndrome – Many people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease, often 10 -20 years earlier than those without it.
  • Head trauma – Those who have experienced severe head trauma at some point in their lives are at a greater risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Lifestyle and health – Research shows that lack of exercise, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and other related issues can increase the chance of Alzheimer’s.
  • Learn and social engagement – Other studies have shown that low education levels and a lifelong lack of mentally and socially stimulating activates can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

Ultimately, there is no way to prevent Alzheimer’s. However, you can take steps to reduce some of the risk factors. Exercise and diet are always important, but you should also be sure to avoid smoking, manage your blood pressure and cholesterol, challenge your brain, and stay social.

How To Help Fight Alzheimer’s

Throughout the month of June, people are encouraged to wear purple and share their stories and experiences with Alzheimer’s disease. However, if you’d like to donate, we can suggest these organizations:

  1. Alzheimer’s Association – The leading voluntary health organization for Alzheimer’s care, support, research, and education. Donate here.
  2. Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation – One of the largest scientific facilities dedicated to Alzheimer’s research. This organization received at perfect rating from Charity Navigator. You can donate here.