Many people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. The National Institute of Aging (NIA) estimates that more than 6 million Americans — many of them ages 65 and older — have Alzheimer’s. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, working with a mental health professional can help you cope and improve your quality of life.
My Psychiatrist offers mental health treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients virtually and in person at one of our South Florida locations.
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys thinking and memory skills. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. While dementia is more likely to occur as people grow older, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging.
What Is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms associated with a decline in reasoning and other thinking skills that are severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that causes dementia.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is the result of complex brain changes that may begin years before symptoms appear. During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the brain develops abnormal protein buildups, creating amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of fibers known as tau tangles that cause neurons to die. As the disease progresses, the damage becomes more widespread and brain tissue shrinks significantly.
Scientists believe that a combination of lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors influence when Alzheimer’s develops and how it progresses.
Stages of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease worsens over time, though the rate at which the disease progresses varies from person to person. There are three general stages of Alzheimer’s:
- Early-stage Alzheimer’s: During the early stage, a person may begin to experience cognitive difficulties like memory loss, though symptoms may not be obvious. Generally speaking, a person in this stage may still be able to function independently.
- Middle-stage Alzheimer’s: During the middle stage, dementia symptoms are more pronounced. The person may become more confused and forgetful. In many cases, a person with middle-stage Alzheimer’s can still participate in daily activities with assistance, but they will require a higher level of care as the stage progresses.
- Late-stage Alzheimer’s: In the final stage of Alzheimer’s, symptoms are severe. People lose the ability to communicate and an awareness of their surroundings, becoming dependent on others for care.
How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?
Physicians may use medical history, cognitive tests and other medical exams to diagnose a person with Alzheimer’s. If a doctor believes a person has Alzheimer’s, they may refer that person to a specialist like a neurologist for further assessment. The specialist may conduct advanced tests like brain scans and lab analyses of spinal fluid to measure protein levels and changes in brain size.
How Is Alzheimer’s Treated?
Although there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s, certain treatments can improve a person’s quality of life. Depending on the patient’s specific needs, they may be treated with medication and therapy.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Alzheimer’s medications that fall into one of two categories — drugs that may help mitigate Alzheimer’s symptoms and drugs that may change disease progression.
In 2021, the FDA approved a new medication called aducanumab, the first disease-modifying therapy approved to treat Alzheimer’s. Aducanumab is an IV infusion treatment that targets beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates abnormally in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The medication helps reduce amyloid deposits and works best in people with early- or middle-stage Alzheimer’s. It has not yet been shown to affect clinical symptoms or outcomes.
Several FDA-approved medications treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These drugs work by regulating neurotransmitters — chemicals that transmit messages between neurons. Medications include:
- Medications for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms: Rivastigmine, galantamine and donepezil.
- Medications for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s symptoms: Donepezil, memantine and a manufactured combination of donepezil and memantine.
Evidence-based therapies can help minimize symptoms of anxiety and depression that often accompany Alzheimer’s. Through therapy, individuals with Alzheimer’s can develop skills to help them cope with their diagnosis and change behaviors and thought patterns in a healthy way.
Below are some therapies often used to treat Alzheimer’s:
- Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST)
- Individual psychotherapy
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
- Art therapy
- Music therapy
Living and Coping With Alzheimer’s
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be overwhelming, but developing coping skills can help you maximize your independence and handle daily challenges. Some tips you can try include:
- Set realistic goals: Focus on what you can do today, and don’t be afraid to ask for help with difficult tasks.
- Develop a routine: Make a plan for completing a few tasks you want to accomplish each day. Having a schedule can help you save time on figuring out what needs to be done when.
- Take your time: Give yourself a realistic amount of time to complete a task, and don’t pressure yourself to succeed. If a task becomes too difficult, take a break and come back to it.
- Focus on your strengths: Think about all the things you’re still able to do and how you can use your skills to deal with challenging tasks.
- Use your support system: Use family, friends and even pets as a source of comfort and support.
How to Know When to See a Psychiatrist for Alzheimer’s
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may have Alzheimer’s, reach out to a medical professional right away. While Alzheimer’s symptoms vary, the following signs may be early indicators of the disease.
- Memory loss: Memory loss is typically one of the first and most common signs of Alzheimer’s. It may include forgetting recently learned information, important dates, names, appointments and other information.
- Difficulty planning: People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following a plan or working with numbers. Tasks like keeping track of monthly bills and following familiar recipes can become challenging.
- Trouble completing daily tasks: A person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulties completing everyday tasks, like making a grocery list or driving to a familiar location.
- Confusion: People with Alzheimer’s often lose track of time and dates. They may forget where they are and how they got there.
- Visual and spatial issues: Vision and spatial recognition problems can be signs of Alzheimer’s. The person may have trouble reading, judging distance, distinguishing colors or balancing.
- Problems with words: A person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word to use. They may also stop in the middle of a conversation or repeat themselves.
- Misplacing items: People with Alzheimer’s may put things in unusual places and have trouble retracing their steps.
- Decline in judgment: Individuals with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment that lead to poor decision-making, such as mistakes with money or paying less attention to hygiene.
- Withdrawal from social activities: When someone has Alzheimer’s, they may find it difficult to keep up with an activity or conversation and withdraw from hobbies and social engagements as a result.
- Mood and personality changes: People with Alzheimer’s often experience mood and personality changes such as increased anxiety, fearfulness, depression, suspicion, anger and aggression.
Alzheimer’s Psychiatric Treatment in South Florida
When you reach out to My Psychiatrist for Alzheimer’s treatment, we’ll evaluate your condition and develop a treatment plan customized to your needs. We offer outpatient services that let you meet with your therapists in person and telemedicine services that enable you to receive live, virtual therapy sessions from the comfort of your home.
Schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified psychiatrists or clinicians today.