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Early Alzheimer's symptoms are relatively mild and can mirror the signs of normal aging: less serious forms of dementia, or complications of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. At different Alzheimer's stages, symptoms become more pronounced and debilitating. Treatments are available, so it's important to talk with your doctor if you suspect you are experiencing Alzheimer's symptoms.
In most cases, outward Alzheimer's symptoms do not appear until age 60 or later. Early onset of the disease, in which Alzheimer's symptoms show up in individuals in their 30s, 40s or 50s, is relatively rare. However, even when symptoms don't appear until later in life, important and irreversible changes in the brain may have taken place many years before.
In early Alzheimer's stages, brain fibers begin to weave together into bundles known as neurofibrillary tangles. The neurons within these tangles cease to function properly and eventually die. Next, abnormal clumps known as amyloid plaques begin to form. Finally, neurons elsewhere in the brain that normally facilitate memory and learning become disconnected from one another and die.
First Alzheimer's symptoms
The earliest symptom of Alzheimer's disease is usually memory loss. It is natural for our memory to decline as we age, but when memory difficulties seem inappropriate for our age, something may be wrong. Other factors that may cause memory problems include medications, alcohol abuse, dehydration, vitamin deficiencies or treatable brain abnormalities.
It is at the earliest stages that these other possible causes should be identified or ruled out. The usual Alzheimer's tests include memory and problem-solving tests, as well as brain imaging such as CT scans or MRI examinations. If these are positive, then drug and other treatments to ease Alzheimer's symptoms can begin.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease, many of the symptoms can be treated to improve the patient's quality of life for many months or even years as changes in the brain continue.
Beginning Alzheimer's stages
Memory continues to deteriorate during early Alzheimer's stages. Patients may begin to find routine tasks more time-consuming, become lost or have unaccustomed mood swings. They also may find it difficult to make decisions and to keep track of their money and finances.
Moderate Alzheimer's disease
The progression of Alzheimer's stages varies a great deal between individuals, although it tends to be slower in younger people and may continue for 10 years or longer in some cases.
Once Alzheimer's progresses to a moderate stage, problems with language may become more noticeable. People with moderate Alzheimer's Disease begin to find it difficult to learn new things and may begin to show signs of distrust, fear or paranoia.
Final Alzheimer's stage
Because Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder, all systems of the body are eventually impacted, as areas of the brain that control bodily functions become shrunken and dysfunctional. Late-stage patients generally lose the ability to speak and become completely bedridden.
Research is ongoing to develop new treatments and hopefully find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease under the auspices of agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.