Imagine talking to your mother and her not knowing who you are. Picture someone you love depleting physically and mentally right before your eyes. This is the harsh reality for all those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Symptoms develop slowly and get worse and worse, usually severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Confusion, difficulty solving problems, poor judgment and changes in mood and personality are just a few of the many symptoms the sufferer may face.
In the late stages of the disease, individuals lose the ability to keep conversations going and have trouble responding to their environment. People with the disease live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others. However, survival can range from four to 20 years depending on other health conditions and age. Regardless, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
A brain with Alzheimer’s has two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles. Plaques are deposits of protein fragment that build up between nerve cells. Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein that build up inside cells. Although most people develop plaques and tangles, those with the disease develop more in a predictable pattern, starting in important areas for memory. Experts believe tangles and plaques play a crucial role in stopping communication among nerve cells.
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but treatments are available for symptoms, and research continues in an effort to find better ways to treat the disease and to prevent it from developing and delay its onset. The most important risk factors are age, family history and heredity, and they cannot be changed. Advancing age is the greatest known risk factor for the disease. One out of nine people aged 65 or older has the disease, while nearly one out of three people 85 or older has the disease. As far as family history, the risk of getting Alzheimer’s increases if more than one family member suffers from the illness.
This past year my family experienced firsthand what it is like to lose a loved one to the grips of Alzheimer’s disease. My beautiful grandmother, Roslyn, lost her battle with Alzheimer’s this summer at the age of 78. My family did not know that she had the illness until it got worse because she did not want to get diagnosed.
Symptoms were prevalent for about seven or eight years. Roslyn had an unhealthy diet, did not exercise, and did not actively use her brain or socialize. All of those things are important in maintaining a healthy brain. In the end, medicine was killing her stomach and made her very sick.
Something important to know is that people do not know the effects of the disease until it is too late to act on it. Medicine can only do so much to slow down the progression of the illness. This disease is intense; there is no true treatment, no true cure. People whose loved ones are affected by this have to watch their loved ones lose their identity and life so quickly. The person cannot take care of themselves and do not know what is happening around them.
Every year the Alzheimer’s Association holds a walk to end Alzheimer’s.
More than 600 communities participate nationwide and it is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and money for Alzheimer’s. The money raised during the walks provides support, care, research and advocacy for the disease. People are encouraged to join teams and donate money in support of that team. My family will be representing the team “Babaloo’s Butterflies” in honor of my grandmother.
Alzheimer’s disease takes over one’s life, so it is very important to educate and take care of yourself if you think you are at risk.
Samara Rosenfeld is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at SR806559@wcupa.edu.