Alzheimer’s disease causes the slow, progressive death of nerve cells in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. The brain is different from other organs of the body in that every nerve cell in the brain does something unique that only that nerve cell can do and no other nerve cell can do.
In the brain, every part has a specific function, and all of the parts must work together for the brain to work correctly. Loss of any part of the brain results in loss of that function, because no other part of the brain can take over or perform that function.
The first area in which nerve cells die in Alzheimer’s disease is located near the center of the cerebral hemispheres: the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the memory area of the brain. All memory is cataloged and recorded by the hippocampus.
As Alzheimer’s disease progressively consumes brain functions, those that remain must be cherished and, with the caregiver’s assistance, displayed more prominently.
The first symptom noticeable in the Early-to-Mild-stage of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. The rest of the brain works normally, however, so the person still moves, and feels things, sees, hears, and integrates information. Because judgement, reasoning, and social skills are still normal, the person can develop compensatory coping strategies to deal with memory problems.
Thus, in this beginning stage of the disease process, probably no one will be aware of the problem; because of these compensations, the person will appear normal and never consult a physician.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the damage to the brain moves from the hippocampus to the temporal lobe, causing the person to have trouble understanding words or expressing words correctly.
Difficulty using or understanding words can cause conflicts with others and also cause the person with Alzheimer’s disease to withdraw and communicate less. Because the frontal lobes are still intact, the person tries to understand why others do not seem to respond appropriately to conversation.
The focus during this Early-to-Mild stage should be on the abilities, skills, and talents that remain and can be used and nourished. Instead of worrying about losses, concentrate on nourishing the remaining skills and abilities.
In our final article, “Something is Wrong… Early to Mild Stage Alzheimer’s Disease”, we will share some tops to help assist the caregiver.