Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, but Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.

Alzheimer’s Disease Survival Rate

Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.

Brain effected by Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease Causes

Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s Disease, but it has become increasingly clear that it develops because of a complex series of events that take place in the brain over a long period of time. It is likely that the causes include some mix of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

  • Age. Scientists are learning how age-related changes in the brain may harm neurons and contribute to Alzheimer’s damage.
  • Genetics.  Genes play an important role in development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Most cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s are familial Alzheimer’s disease, caused by changes in one of three known genes inherited from a parent.
  • Life Style and Environmental Factors. There is a great deal of interest and studies in associations between cognitive decline and vascular and metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes, other thinking problems, such as trouble finding the right words or poor judgment, are most prominent early on. As the disease progresses, memory loss worsens, and changes in other cognitive abilities are evident. Problems can include:-

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Getting lost
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills
  • Repeating questions
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Poor judgment
  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places
  • Mood and personality changes

Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease

  • increased memory loss and confusion
  • problems recognizing family and friends
  • inability to learn new things
  • difficulty carrying out tasks that involve multiple steps (such as getting dressed)
  • problems coping with new situations
  • hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
  • impulsive behavior

Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

  • inability to communicate
  • weight loss
  • seizures
  • skin infections
  • difficulty swallowing
  • groaning, moaning, or grunting
  • increased sleeping
  • lack of control of bowel and bladder

Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis

A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be made only through autopsy after death, by linking clinical measures with an examination of brain tissue. However, doctors have several methods and tools to help them determine fairly accurately whether a person who is having memory problems has “possible Alzheimer’s disease”. To diagnose Alzheimer’s, doctors may:

  • Ask questions about overall health, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality
  • Conduct tests of memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language
  • Carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem
  • Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to distinguish Alzheimer’s from other possible causes for symptoms

These tests may be repeated to give doctors information about how the person’s health and memory are changing over time. Tests can also help diagnose other causes of memory problems, such as Mild Cognitive Impairment and Vascular Dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment

Alzheimer’s Disease is complex, and it is unlikely that any one intervention will be found to delay, prevent, or cure it. That’s why current approaches in treatment and research focus on several different aspects, including helping people maintain mental function, managing behavioral symptoms, and slowing or delaying the symptoms of the disease. Donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), or galantamine (Razadyne®) are used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s (donepezil can be used for severe Alzheimer’s as well). Memantine (Namenda®), is used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s.

These drugs work by regulating neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit messages between neurons. They may help maintain thinking, memory, and speaking skills, and may help with certain behavioral problems. However, these drugs don’t change the underlying disease process, are effective for some but not all people, and may help only for a limited time.

Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

  • Diabetes. About 3 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are linked to diabetes.
  • Low education – or simply not using your brain enough – accounts for 7 percent of Alzheimer’s cases.
  • Obesity. Midlife obesity accounts for 7 percent of Alzheimer’s cases.
  • Hypertension.  8 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are linked to mid-life hypertension.
  • Smoking accounts for 11 percent of Alzheimer’s cases.
  • Depression. 15 percent of Alzheimer’s cases may stem from depression.
  • Too Little Exercise. The highest risk factor is also dangerously common – time to get up and move.

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