Understanding Alzheimer's

While we work towards a cure, we must also care for those with Alzheimer’s, supporting them and their caregivers.

- Founder, Kenneth A. Smaltz Jr.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that impacts memory, thinking and language skills, and the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia itself is not a disease, but a term used to describe symptoms such as loss of memory, loss of judgment and other intellectual functions. Alzheimer’s disease can cause dementia.

It is important to understand that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually increase. It is important to look for signs that might indicate Alzheimer’s disease versus basic forgetfulness due to aging or other conditions that can be caused by medications.

Normal aging forgetfulness vs. early signs of Alzheimer’s disease

As we age, we all begin to occasionally forget things – that's normal. But the changes that occur in Alzheimer's disease go far beyond mild forgetfulness. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease differ from normal aging:

Normal Aging Early Signs of Alzheimers disease
Forgetting the names of people you rarely see Forgetting the names of people close to you
Briefly forgetting part of an experience Forgetting a recent experience
Not putting things away properly Putting things away in strange places
Mood changes because of an appropriate cause Having unpredictable mood changes 
Changes in your interests Decreased interest in activities

What happens when a person has Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease often starts slowly. In fact, some people don’t know they have it. They blame their forgetfulness on old age. However, over time, their memory problems get more serious. People with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble doing everyday things like driving a car, cooking a meal, or paying bills. They may get lost easily and find even simple things confusing. Some people become worried, angry, or violent. As the illness gets worse, people need someone to take care of all their needs, including feeding and bathing. It is essential as the disease progresses for a person to live with a caregiver or in a nursing home. This is what makes advocating for caregivers, care centers, and nursing homes so essential to a quality and safe environment for people with Alzheimer’s.

Warning signs of the disease

Experts have identified some common warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, though each individual is unique. Seeing these signs individually might not be an indication of the disease. In general with Alzheimer’s you see these indicators collectively and progressing in an individual. Remember seeing your doctor if there is any concern is the first action to take.

  • Memory loss, especially of recent events, names, places and other new information
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Struggling to complete familiar tasks such as brushing one’s teeth
  • Trouble finding appropriate words, for example in a sentence
  • Difficulties in judging situations
  • Changes in mood and personality

When is it important to see your doctor

If you or someone in your family thinks your forgetfulness is getting in the way of your normal routine, it’s time to see your doctor. Seeing the doctor when you first start having memory problems can help you find out what’s causing your forgetfulness. If you have Alzheimer’s, finding the disease early gives you and your family more time to plan for your treatment and care. Your doctor or a specialist may do the following things to find out if you have Alzheimer’s disease:

  • give you a medical check-up
  • ask questions about your family’s health
  • ask how well you can do everyday things like driving, shopping for food, and paying bills
  • talk with someone in your family about your memory problems
  • test your memory, problem-solving, counting, and language skills
  • check your blood and urine, and do other medical tests
  • do brain scans that show pictures of your brain