How does Alzheimer's disease affect cognitive abilities?

Dr. Gayatri Devi, MD

Alzheimer's disease affects memory in that a person's ability to restore and retrieve their memories simply gets lost. In this video, neurologist Gayatri Devi, MD, explains how the condition impacts a patient's recall of both new and old memories.

Dr. Eric Pfeiffer
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

During the mid stage, hallucinations and/or delusions may make their appearance for the first time. Hallucinations and/or delusions may be of two types that have very different meanings and require a different type of response. The first type of hallucination or delusion consists of images, voices or beliefs that are often innocent distortions of reality. They tend to “re-animate” the world of the patient with interesting but harmless visions, voices or beliefs. The second type are often dangerous hallucinations or delusions in which the patient feels threatened by the imagined vision, voice or belief, and is intent on defending against it. For the latter you need to consult with the patient’s doctor who may be able to prescribe a major tranquilizer or even give an injection.

Additionally, those suffering from Alzheimer's may experience changes in sexual behavior. There may be an excessive preoccupation with sex or an excessively frequent demand for sex. Alternatively, the patient may be interested in having sex, but no longer remembers his or her own role and activities in performing sexual acts. It is advisable that you as a caregiver seek advice from your own physician, or else discuss the particular sexual problems you experience with your Alzheimer’s patient’s doctor. Also, members of support groups will have faced similar issues, and they may have suggestions to offer to you as to how to cope with the problem.

The Art of Caregiving in Alzheimer's Disease

More About this Book

The Art of Caregiving in Alzheimer's Disease

This is an A to Z Guide to the caregiving experience in Alzheimer's disease. It is easy to read, easy to follow. It is authorative, based on thirty years of experieReconce in caring for Alzheimer's...

Alzheimer's disease can affect mood and personality by causing depression, irritability, anger, outbursts or hallucinations, especially in the later stages. This can be extremely hard on caregivers, especially if people with Alzheimer's behave very differently than they did before the disease. Caregivers can feel as if they are caring for a whole different person.

Progressive memory loss is the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Initially, only short-term memory for recent events is impaired, and the person merely seems forgetful. But because short-term memory is essential for absorbing new information, the impairment soon interferes with the ability to interact socially and perform one's work. Long-term memory may be retained longer, often in great detail, but it becomes fragmented as the disease progresses. Toward the final stage, people with Alzheimer's may be unable to recall their own names.

Depression may accompany Alzheimer's disease, partly as a result of chemical changes in the brain and partly as an understandable psychological reaction to the loss of mental abilities. Symptoms of depression include loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, change in appetite that sometimes leads to weight loss or gain, insomnia or oversleeping, loss of energy and feelings of worthlessness. A person may become withdrawn, irritable or inexplicably hostile. People with Alzheimer's, though, seldom have feelings of excessive guilt or thoughts of suicide, which are often symptoms of depression.

Alzheimer's disease—the most common form of dementia in older people—is a degenerative disease of the brain initially characterized by gradual loss of short-term memory and then increasing difficulty performing simple, routine tasks. It starts in one part of the brain and gradually invades other regions. As it progresses, Alzheimer's destroys nerve cells within the brain and the connections between them, leaving behind clumps of proteins called plaques and twisted fibers in brain cells called tangles. Over time, this destruction erodes the most vital abilities of human nature: language, learning, memory and reason.

The disease progresses at different speeds for every individual, but eventually most people experience disorientation and personality and behavior changes. Communicating with others becomes difficult, and the ability to stay focused and follow directions becomes more challenging. Ultimately, people with Alzheimer's require more and more assistance with activities of daily living and eventually become entirely dependent on others.

Continue Learning about Alzheimer's Disease Warning Signs & Symptoms

Alzheimer's Disease Warning Signs & Symptoms

Alzheimer's Disease Warning Signs & Symptoms

Early signs of Alzheimer's disease include forgetfulness and trouble finding words, but this also occurs with normal aging. What distinguishes the person with early Alzheimer's disease is development of new psychological symptoms. ...

Energy and engagement in every day life may diminish. These symptoms can become so severe that they may interfere with the ability to carry out more difficult tasks, such as handling finances or driving a car. Knowing the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can help you or a loved one identify whether or not you are at risk and put you on the right path to treatment.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.