As tiny sands fall through an hourglass, so fall the memories of a person with Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia.

As tiny sands fall through an hourglass, so fall the memories of a person with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Once those memories fall through the hourglass, they fare unable to be retrieved. Watching the hourglass, one sees many challenges for that person, the family and caregivers.

Alzheimer’s Disease encompasses the majority of dementia diseases. It starts slowly and worsens over time and can continue for three to 10 or more years.

The cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is not well understood. Many researchers believe a genetic component accounts for about 70 percent with many genes involved. Head injuries can also lead to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is characterized by the accumulation of two types of protein in the brain: tangles or twisted strands of tau protein and protein fragments of amyloid – beta plaques outside neurons in the brain, causing the death of brain cells creating a hole of emptiness.

Cognitive testing and history of symptoms are elements of assessment that lead a physician to a probable diagnosis. There are effects of normal aging on memory that are not Alzheimer’s Disease. These may be referred to as “benign forgetfulness” such as: forgetting things occasionally, misplacing items sometimes, minor short-term memory loss and not remembering exact details. A clear example would be forgetting where the car keys are as opposed to forgetting the purpose of the car keys.

True Alzheimer’s Disease falls into three stages which may be distinct and may overlap. Early stage includes not only forgetting but also not remembering episodes of forgetfulness, and forgetting names of family or friends. These changes may only be noticed by close friends or relatives. A shrinking vocabulary inability to find words may also be noticed. Changes in temperament and judgement may occur, leading to uncharacteristic decisions. During the middle stage, long term memory becomes impaired and is delineated by greater difficulty remembering recently learned information, deepening confusion in many circumstances, problems with sleep such as insomnia, and problems with nutrition and forgetting to eat and how to eat. The person may tend to wander without purpose inside and outside of the home which could pose a danger.

As the afternoon turns to evening and the sun begins to set, these symptoms may heighten. This is referred to as Sundowning. As a person progresses into the late stage, the decline may be demonstrated as poor ability to think and reason, problems speaking and swallowing, repeating the same conversations and becoming more abusive, anxious, irritable or paranoid. The person with Alzheimer’s Disease in unable to perform simple tasks at this point and is partially or totally dependent on others for care.

Sandra Clack is a member of the Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County which is comprised of health care professionals throughout the county. Members meet on the first Thursday of the first full week of the month.