The Reality of Alzheimer’s

Written By: Ansley Scott c/o 2020
Who Are You Again? An Editorial Feature on the Personal Effects of Alzheimer’s Disease
What is your name again? Who are you? How do I know you? Three simple questions that are heard daily in the life of someone affected by Alzheimer’s. These are questions that are not easy to hear, but remind loved ones that forgetfulness is a reality of the disease. Alzheimer’s is a disease that progresses over time by destroying your memory which is caused by brain cells losing their quality and dying, resulting in memory loss and loss of certain functions.
My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and throughout this process I lost her before she ever physically passed. The difficult part about seeing someone suffer from this disease is having to watch them turn into someone you never knew before. In this case, my grandmother was still physically her, but mentally and emotionally it was not her.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer after he found tangles and plaques in a brain. Plaques are clumps of protein that damage and destroy the cells in the brain. In a normal brain, there is a transport system that is designed to carry nutrients that brain cells depend on. With Alzheimer’s, these threads of protein tangle result in a failure of the transport system, eventually causing the death of brain cells.  These plaques and tangles are the main features of the disease, along with the loss of connection between nerve cells.

Scientists do not yet fully know the main cause of this disease or why it effects only older adults. There are two different ways to get Alzheimer's, late-onset and early-onset. Late onset occurs in a person’s mid 60’s and early onset occurs between a person’s 30’s and 60’s. Early onset Alzheimer's affects less than ten percent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s has a range of stages beginning with loss of reasoning or judgment. From there, they may transition into the stage of getting lost easily, repeating questions, and taking longer to complete something. After this, moderate Alzheimer’s takes effect where a person will have trouble learning new things, memory loss worsens, and they may begin to forget friends or family. The last stage of Alzheimer’s usually results in a person not being able to communicate or care for themselves due to plaques and tangles spreading throughout the brain and shrinking it. Ultimately, their body begins to shut down.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, which means no treatments will prevent or slow down the process of the disease, but there are both drug and non-drug options that may potentially help the symptoms. These medications are not designed to cure Alzheimer’s, but to improve the quality of life. Not only are there medications, but there are studies shown that certain activities could help prevent someone from getting diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, exercise, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep are all things that could potentially prevent Alzheimer’s.  

For the past four years, my grandma suffered from this disease. She was diagnosed when she was 65 and earlier this year, at the age of 70, she passed away. Throughout the years, it has been very hard to watch someone so close to me go through something like Alzheimer’s. You have a first hand experience of watching someone’s memory fade away, but it teaches you to cherish the time you still have with your loved one. My grandma was taken away from us too soon, but we are reassured that she is no longer in pain or suffering.

For anyone who has known someone affected by Alzheimer’s many things are learned throughout the process. For me, learning to step outside of your comfort zone was a key lesson. My mom and I visited my grandmother regularly whether it was at her memory care home or eventually the nursing home in the last stages. Visiting these places are not something you would want to be doing when you hope to have fun, but you are able to bring light into a sad situation. Many families have lost loved ones due to this disease, which is why awareness for Alzheimer’s continues to be raised.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a goal to eliminate Alzheimer’s through research. They also organize an annual nationwide Walk to End Alzheimer’s race that is the world’s largest event that raises awareness and money for Alzheimer’s. There is no fee to enter this race, but it is encouraged that participants donate money in helping to end this disease. World Alzheimer’s Month is every September, run by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), and has a goal to raise awareness and general knowledge of the disease. Dedicating this month to Alzheimer’s gives businesses, charities, and other people the opportunity to raise money for this disease.

Not many people know the full effect of Alzheimer’s. This year, 500,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s were diagnosed. As more awareness is being raised, more funding is going into further research with this disease in hopes to find answers. Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease, but with the proper awareness and funding, scientists may be able to discover a cure.

Photo by Sam Seymour

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