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Senior Citizen's Guide to North Jersey

Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s diease is a progressive neurological disease that destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. It is the leading cause of dementia, and over 5.3 million Americans have been diagnosed. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but new treatments for symptoms, combined with appropriate services and support, can enhance the lives of individuals living with the disease. In addition, there is an accelerating worldwide effort underway to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and even prevent it from developing. Meanwhile, experts have documented certain patterns of symptom progression in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and have developed several methods of “staging” based on these patterns. It is important to note, however, that Alzheimer’s disease advances at widely varied rates; not everyone will experience every symptom and symptoms might occur at different times in different individuals.

The series of symptoms generally associated with the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s disease is called early-stage. At the time of a diagnosis, an individual is not necessarily in the early stage of the disease; he or she may have already progressed and be experiencing other symptoms. Individuals who have early-stage Alzheimer’s disease may experience confusion and memory loss, disorientation to time and place, changes in personal judgment, loss of initiative, and problems with abstract thinking. At this point in the progression of the disease, individuals are usually aware of the behavioral changes they have been exhibiting and their inability to remember recent events, and they are still able to participate in simple daily routines and communicate with others. This is the time when issues related to future planning – treatment options, housing preferences, and financial and legal issues – should be considered. Here some specific things one can do after a diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease:

After disclosing the diagnosis to loved ones and individuals that are trusted, one should be prepared for the potential impact on careers and/or finances and personal relationships with family, spouses and friends. Consider contacting the Alzheimer’s Association for support. The Association offers educational opportunities through community programs and individualized care consultations, which can be a valuable tool in managing care and making more informed decisions regarding services and treatments. Care consultations may include any of the following:

Joining an early-stage support group with individuals who are having similar experiences may be beneficial as well.

If you have concerns about changes in memory, thinking and behavior, consult a physician. Some dementia-like symptoms can be reversed if caused by other conditions such as depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems, or certain vitamin deficiencies. The advantage of an early diagnosis is that the individual and his/her family have time to make plans for the future, therefore optimizing quality of life.

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