Alzheimer’s Disease is typically broken down into 3 distinct phases: an early, moderate and severe form of the disease. In this article, we will spotlight the early stages of the disease and discuss what types of symptoms you will probably experience and what kind of treatments you could try in order to help reduce the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s disease to Watch Out For?
A medical phrase that is typically associated with Mild AD is the phrase “mild cognitive impairment.” This simple phrase represents one of the most challenging diagnoses for doctors because of the fact of how vague a statement like this can be.
In reality, this textbook definition does a pretty poor job of describing basic human nature. There are times throughout the day where most people can easily attest to having problems with memory, forgetfulness or mixing up ideas without having an underlying brain pathology to worry about. These symptoms can manifest from simple conditions like too much stress, not enough sleep or too many things on your plate at one time so this umbrella term does not help specify what to look out for when it comes to AD all that well.
As a result, it is quite difficult for doctors to be able to identify this symptom early on in the disease. Doctors are lucky to have 15 minutes of time for each patient uninterrupted and in most cases, they are meeting each other for the first time so we are unfamiliar with that is baseline memory for most patients. As a result, the diagnosis for AD in the mild stage is quite delayed in most cases. There needs to be a pretty obvious drop off in memory for a patient that is sustained for a prolonged period of time.
In order to help us do our jobs better, what you can do as a loved one or as a patient yourself if you are worried about memory problems would be to help document what types of things you notice you are forgetting more easily than before. Typically, short-term memory will be the first thing to accompany mild AD so write down incidents where and when this happened and how frequently you seem to have this sensation compared to before. As you know already, memory loss can be a natural sign of aging so there is a pretty divide between a simple “black and white” diagnosis.
Another helpful step is to figure out a good family history in order for us to help pinpoint the disease. AD is a genetically-linked disease so if you have close family with similar symptoms, that could help point more towards this type of diagnosis.
What treatment options are available to you?
Even though there is still no cure for AD, it is still something that you can treat in order to delay the advancement of the disease. One such way you can do that is by using medications like donepezil. This is a cholinesterase inhibitor that will block the breakdown of acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain. ACh is a natural chemical that is produced to help your neurons send signals to each other. When this chemical is degraded quickly, the signals will not be able to send as effectively so you will start to notice problems with your memory. When you take these types of medications, however, the enzyme that destroys the ACh chemical is blocked temporarily so your neurons have a chance to send signals before the message is interrupted.
A good analogy for this, if you don’t even want to try to take a stab at the pharmacokinetics of what is going on (I don’t blame you), would be you trying to make a phone call to a friend while with a small child. Every scream or interruption from the child prevents you from sending your message to your friend. This is what happens when the ACh is destroyed before neurons can exchange signals. If you have some small toy, (i.e. the drug in this metaphor), to help distract the child for some time, you will be able to successfully get your message across without interruptions from your child temporarily.
Another drug that can also help in this case is called memantine. This is a stronger medication than donepezil and can be included in treatments for mild and moderate types of AD. Think of this as a more elaborate or creative toy that will distract your young child for a longer period of time. It will not work forever, just like these medications, but your brain will have enough time to send signals back and forth so you can function to nearly the same level you were before your diagnosis.