In the last several decades, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States has increased dramatically. If you are nearing retirement age, or older, it is certainly understandable if you are concerned about the likelihood that you will develop the disease. If your memory isn’t what it used to be, you may be worried that you already exhibiting early stage symptoms of the disease. Memory loss, however, is also something that occurs as a result of the natural aging process. How can you tell the difference? Only a licensed physician can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease – or tell you that you don’t have the disease – but the St. Louis elder law attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC may be able to help you decide if it’s time to talk to your physician.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Contrary to what most people think, Alzheimer’s is not just a condition that affects your memory as you age. Unfortunately, it is more complicated than that. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with a number of factors influencing the development of the disease. Scientists are currently focusing on amyloid and tau proteins, whose malformation are classic characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease; however, other factors likely help determine who develops the disease, including vascular health, inflammation, lifestyle, and possibly even viral causes.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
- Age – experts tell us that age is the greatest risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The older you are, the higher the risk is of developing the disease. One in nine people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure rises to one in three for people over the age of 85.
- Family History – experts also appear to agree that family plays a role in predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s disease. A family history of Alzheimer’s disease will increase your chance of getting the condition, particularly if it is a brother, sister, mother or father who had/has the disease. The risk is greater if more than one family member has or has had the disease.
- Genetics –– researchers have identified certain mutated genes associated with the disease. Anyone who inherits a copy of the APOE-e4 gene is at greater risk, and the risk is even greater if they inherit two copies of the gene. There are also deterministic genes which, if inherited, would guarantee the onset of the disease. This only accounts for around 1 percent of Alzheimer’s cases and often the patients suffer from early-onset.
- Head Injury – we don’t hear much about this one, but there is evidence to suggest that head trauma may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly repeated head trauma.
- Heart Health — the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases if you suffer from conditions that can affect the heart, such as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Race — Latinos and African Americans are one and one-half to two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than Caucasians. The reason for this is unclear, although many think the higher rate of heart problems in Latinos and African Americans may be the cause.
Signs of Alzheimer’s
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the following signs may be signs that indicate you are developing Alzheimer’s disease. If you have any of the signs, make an appointment to discuss your concerns and worries with your regular physician right away.
- Forgetting recently learned information
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing daily tasks of living
- Confusion with time or place
- Visual or spatial problems
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
Contact the St. Louis Elder Law Attorneys
If you have additional questions or concerns about elder law issues or concerns, contact the experienced St. Louis elder law attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.