Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disease that progresses gradually destroying memory and thinking skills. As the disease progresses, the affected person loses all ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks as well as self-care. The disease in most cases, the disease first appears at the age of 65.
Dementia is the most common cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The loss of cognitive functions like thinking, remembering as well as reasoning along with behavioral problems is called as dementia. As the condition worsens, it starts interfering with the person’s daily task and life.
The disease was first discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in the year 1906. Dr. Alzheimer had noticed a woman who died of a strange mental illness. She had suffered from loss of memory, problems with language as well as a very unpredictable behavior. He examined the brain of the deceased woman and found many abnormal clumps. These clumps are called as amyloid plaques today and the bundled fibers as the neurofibrillary tangles. These plaques and tangles are today the most important characteristics of Alzheimer’s today, apart from the loss of connection between brain neurons.
The plaques tend to affect the synapses between the neurons. These synapses cannot pass between the brain cells. The tangles tend to cause the death of the brain cells as they affect the blood flow that carries vital nutrients and energy around the brain. With the death of brain cells, the brain starts shrinking. This is observed in imaging studies such as MRI.
What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Generally, one will not observe any specific symptoms of the disease. The early symptoms are often dismissed as effects of old age.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s as the disease progresses are covered below:
- Subtle changes in behavior- The affected person starts forgetting simple words or forgetting where the key is. This is never thought of as something serious as it is quite common to forget names or things or certain words in oldage. The person continues to function normally otherwise, carrying out daily tasks as well as selfcare independently.
- Mild changes in thinking and reasoning- This is the stage when one starts noticing the changes occurring in the behavior of a loved one. The person may forget that they just read the newspaper or repeatedly ask the same question again again. They will start having problems organizing things or planning something.They may even start to forget names of people who they met recently.
- Moderate changes in behavior- The changes in the thinking and reasoning become more prominent. The loved one may start forgetting things about themselves, forget the month or day or date, they may even forget what season it is and may show difficulty even when ordering a simple sandwich from the menu. At this stage, they require help to carry out everyday tasks and need someone to monitor their finances so that no one tries to cheat them.
- Moderately severe changes in behavior- At this stage the person starts having problems remembering his/her name, phone number, address, etc. They will forget which school they went to or what which field did they graduate from. They cannot make out which clothes to wear and forget details about themselves and their lives.
- Severe changes- The disease has progressed further and the affected person starts forgetting names. However, they may still recognize a face or mistake a certain person for someone else. They may start getting delusions that they are still working, even though they have attained retirement a long, long time ago.
- Very severe changes- The affected person loses ability to eat, walk or even sit at this stage. They may need to be spoon fed soft-foods and drinks. They need to be offered water as they won’t be able to tell if they are thirsty or not.
Some other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Inability to remember names and words that are used everyday
- Forgetting brief conversations
- Feeling cold more often than normal, even if the weather is warm
- Inability to follow directions
- Forgetting to monitor their finances, balance, etc.
- Withdrawal from social life and spending more time in front of the TV
- Sleeping more than usual
- Forgetting directions and landing up in places very far away from home
- Mood swings that include feeling sad, tearful or getting angry for no reason
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
The cause remains unknown till date except for cases where one can identify the genetic differences. These cases make up only 1 to 5 % of all cases of Alzheimer’s.
Some of the reasons that cause Alzheimer’s disease includes:
- Ageing is one of the main causes of Alzheimer’s as more than 2/3rd of the cases includes people who are well over 80 years of age.
- Genetics is the second most probable cause of Alzheimer’s, especially if one of the parent or a twin or a very close relative had developed this disease.
- Smoking, obesity and lifestyle also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.
- High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol increase the risk of Alzheimer’s
- A history of severe head injury
- A person with Down’s syndrome may have a greater risk of Alzheimer’s with age.
Complications Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease
As the disease progresses, it will affect one’s daily activated. The person will find it difficult to move around. They may suffer from more and more infections such as bladder infections or pneumonia. These infections are harder to overcome, especially when one suffers from Alzheimer’s. In majority of the cases, the person usually dies due to complications of these diseases, rather than Alzheimer itself. However, the disease too can continue to progress to the point where the brain loses control of all essential life activities. These activities include balance, swallowing, breathing, etc. This leads to death in the person due to the disease itself.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
It is very difficult to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, especially during the initial period. When the person visits a doctor for help, he/she may ask questions that help test the thinking and memory power. This test is called as the Mini-Mental State Examination. A urine or blood test will be conducted to help know more about any other condition that is causing the symptoms experienced.
The doctor will also carry out a physical assessment to check the patient’s reflexes, ability to get up from a chair and walk across the room, balance, coordination, muscle tone and strength.
After the memory assessment, the doctor will carry out an extensive neuropsychological test. These tests help the doctor know more about the early stages of Alzheimer’s and identify patterns related to different dementia types. Based on these tests, the doctor will suggest if one could till go on about or stop managing their finances or carry out other tasks such as driving.
Imaging tests such as MRI, CT scan, PET scan, etc. may be conducted to know more about the plaques and tangles within the brain.
Treatment Options for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but the different treatment methods help slow down the progress of the disease for some time. The treatments suggested depending on individual circumstances.
Medications such as acetylcholinesterase helps increase the level of acetylcholine. This is a chemical that helps the nerve signals travel along the nerve cell synapses. In people with Alzheimer’s, the level of this chemical is quite low and thus, require acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that prevent further decline of acetylcholine levels.
In severe or late-stage Alzheimer’s, the patient is given memantine. This medication helps improve the memory and thinking power of the patient and allows them to carry on with basic self-care activities.
Other medications given include those that help overcome sleep disturbances, anxiety and even depression.
There are many therapies available that help in dealing with memory loss, behavioral changes as well as emotional changes. These therapies include:
- Multisensory stimulation
- Psychological interventions
- Cognitive stimulation therapy
- Conversations related to one’s life, past, present as well carrying out activities like cooking, painting, etc. that helps one express themselves.
There is no sureshot way of preventing Alzheimer’s. However, living a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risks greatly.
These lifestyle tips include:
- Regular exercising
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Avoid cholesterol
- Keep blood sugar levels in check
- Eat healthy and balanced diet
Make sure you always have some hobbies or interests hat helps keep your brain active.Sedentary life can affect and prevent the regrowth of brain cells. Speak to your doctor in detail regarding Alzheimer’s and its effect on your life.
You May Also Like To Read
Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: March 18, 2015