What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia among older adults. Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather an overall term that describes a group of symptoms. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and behavior – the ability to carry out simple tasks. According to the National Institute of Aging the disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but recent estimates indicate that the disorder may rank third.
Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Memory problems are usually one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to the disease; however, the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary between each person. Common symptoms include a decline in non-memory aspects of cognition including:
- Vision/spatial issues
- Impaired reasoning & judgment
Stages of Alzheimer’s
There are three stages of Alzheimer’s which are Mild, Moderate and Severe.
Mild Stage of Alzheimer’s
In this first stage of Alzheimer’s the disease begins to progressively get worse and memory loss and other cognitive difficulties increases. Typically, individuals are diagnosed in this stage. Problems experienced in the Mild stage of Alzheimer’s include:
- Wandering & getting lost
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Repeating questions
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- Personality & behavior changes
Moderate Stage of Alzheimer’s
In this second stage of Alzheimer’s the disease starts damaging areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought. Problems experienced in the Moderate stage of Alzheimer’s include:
- Recognizing family & friends
- Learning new things
- Carrying out multistep tasks such as getting dressed
- Coping with new situations
- Hallucinations, paranoia & delusions
Severe Stage of Alzheimer’s
In this third and final stage of Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles spread throughout the brain and brain tissue significantly shrinks. Problems experienced in the Severe stage of Alzheimer’s include:
- Inability to communicate
- Completely dependent on others for care
Oral Health & Alzheimer’s
Daily oral care is extremely important in the Mild stage of Alzheimer’s and focuses on prevention. Prevention includes brushing, flossing and regular check-ups and cleanings. By focusing on prevention, the need for extensive procedures later decreases. As Alzheimer’s progresses those diagnosed may be less able to tolerate daily oral care and necessary dental procedures. In the Moderate and Severe stages of Alzheimer’s oral health could become more challenging. Those with Alzheimer’s may forget how to use a toothbrush, how to brush, how to rinse and how to floss. They also may be resistant to their caregivers when the caregiver attempts to assist with daily oral care.
The Alzheimer’s Association provides the following tips for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s:
- Provide short, simple instructions
- Use a “watch me” technique
- Keep the teeth & mouth clean
- Try different types of toothbrushes
- Floss regularly
- Be aware of potential mouth pain
It is very important to not only keep up on the daily oral care, but also to visit the dentist regularly. As a caregiver, make sure to find the right dentist. It is important to find a dentist that has dealt or deals with patients with dementia or with elderly patients. When visiting the dentist, make sure that the dentist has a list of all medications and healthcare providers who are caring for the patient with Alzheimer’s. It will increasingly get more difficult to keep up with regular dental visits as the disease progresses; however, as a caregiver do your best to keep up on the dental visits for as long as possible. These regular dental visits will help prevent tooth decay, gum problems, pain and infection.
Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
This month is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month which gives us an opportunity to hold a conversation about the brain and share the fact that Alzheimer’s and other dementias are a major public health issue. There are 50 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Everyone is at risk to develop Alzheimer’s, the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. If diagnosed with Alzheimer’s your overall health and oral health can be impacted. During the month of June, join the Alzheimer’s Association in going purple and raising awareness.