What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the major cause of dementia. Dementia is a collective term used to describe the loss of memory, reasoning, language and other capabilities of the brain. Alzheimer’s is a disease that damages the brain tissues.
Alzheimer’s disease worsens with time and may lead to a stage where the person suffering from it is unable to carry out his daily task. Till date, there is no cure for Alzheimers. It is progressive and irreversible in nature.
Approximately 3.7 million Indians are affected by dementia and the number is expected to double by the year 2030.
Causes and risk factors
Alzheimer’s is caused due to degeneration of the brain cells. Over a period, the brain gets a protein deposition, which takes the form of tangles and plaques. This protein deposition, cuts off the connection of the nerve cells in between, resulting in the death of the brain tissues. The brain cells are not able to receive and send proper signals needed to carry out various functions. The loss of ability to remember, recognise, think, speak and all other vital function is then termed as Alzheimer disease. These problems become more noticeable with old age, although the damage starts at a much younger age.
The brain of an Alzheimer patient is often found to be shrunk, thus losing its functionality.
The exact cause of death of the brain cells is not known. However, few factors have been found to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Age: The risk of Alzheimer disease increases with age and the symptoms are also more pronounced in elderly.
- Heredity: You are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer disease if one of your parents or siblings has Alzheimer.
- Down syndrome: Individuals with Down’s syndrome are more vulnerable to Alzheimer disease.
- Head injuries: Past head injuries can be a contributing factor for the onset of Alzheimer disease.
- Gender: More females than males suffer from Alzheimer disease.
- Poor lifestyle: Individuals who are not into healthy habits and physical exercise are at a higher risk of Alzheimer disease.
- Heart disease and Alzheimer disease: There are high chances of a person getting Alzheimer disease if he is already a cardiac disease patient.
- Mild cognitive impairment: Few individuals who are more forgetful than others in their middle age may develop Alzheimer disease later in their life. This condition of forgetting things and facing trouble in remembering is known as mild cognitive impairment.
Symptoms and signs
Alzheimer starts with difficulty in remembering things and getting confused easily. It does not hamper the daily life much in the early days. The typical symptom of Alzheimer disease in the initial stage is a loss of memory.
Usually, the initial symptoms of forgetting can be mistaken as a part of growing old. No two persons suffering from Alzheimer will have the same symptoms. The symptoms would depend on the rate of progress of the disease in each individual.
Alzheimer disease is divided into three stages based on the severity of the symptoms and the effect it has on the daily life:
- Early stage: Person in this stage of Alzheimer disease tends to become more forgetful, suffers from a memory lapse. May forget names, occasions, events, or ask same questions again and again. Individual may also suffer from frequent mood changes, with period of confusion, anxiety and aggressiveness.
- Middle stage: The symptoms of this stage begins to affect the daily life of a person. Memory loss, confusion, mood changes, difficulty in reasoning and thinking becomes more pronounced. A person suffering from Alzheimer disease in this stage may get lost, have visual and speech problems and need support from others for their daily routine.
- Late stage: The symptoms become very severe, severely affecting the life of the individual suffering from it. They become entirely dependent on the caregiver, proving themselves difficult to handle. There is total loss of all functionality of the brain, leaving the person helpless. Hallucinations, suspicion and delusion are experienced by most of the patients in this stage.
You will be referred to a neurology department to get a proper support in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer disease. Your doctor will check your medical history and advise for some tests to diagnose Alzheimer disease.
Initially, your doctor would want to rule out any other cause for the symptoms of memory loss and reasoning. Only when they are convinced that the cause of the symptoms is Alzheimer, some mental ability tests along with physical tests would be conducted.
- Physical examination and a detailed interview with a family member would diagnose the severity of the symptoms.
- Blood and urine tests will be done to rule out any other disease.
- CT, MRI and PET scans of the brain would reveal any other reason for the present condition.
- The person will be tested for their mental abilities such as thinking, recalling, reasoning.
The doctors may repeat certain tests after a period to find out the progress of the symptoms.
Treatment and prevention
There is no cure for Alzheimer disease. All the treatments are focused on delaying the progress of the disease and managing its symptoms. These treatments work for individuals who are in early and middle stage of the disease.
The recommended treatment will be a combination of the below-mentioned options:
- Medications: Certain medicines may be prescribed to slow down the rate of progress of the Alzheimer disease. These medications are more effective if the disease is diagnosed in the early stages.
- Psychological therapies: May be given to help manage the behaviour and mood. Problem-solving therapies may be recommended to keep the brain stimulated.
Alzheimer disease cannot be prevented, but you can take few precautionary measures to reduce your risk of suffering from it.
- Be physically and mentally active.
- Avoid consuming liquor.
- Stop smoking.
- Manage weight
Alzheimer disease has a profound affect on one’s life. Some of the medical complications that are seen due to Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Pneumonia and other lungs infections
- Bone fractures
- Malnutrition and dehydration
Apart from medical complications, few other complications that arise out of Alzheimer’s include:
- Ignorance towards other medical conditions or pain, inability to communicate these problems
- Getting lost
If you think you or a someone you know has been showing above mentioned symptoms of loss of memory or mental capabilities, consult a doctor to get the proper investigations done.
If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer, you will need time to accept it. Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s could be quite disturbing. Start planning your life ahead. You will need to settle your financial and medical needs.
Questions to ask your doctor
You can ask questions on the progress of the symptoms and what all needs to be done to maintain the quality of life. Get a list of do’s and don’t that will help you understand the condition. Get tips on living with Alzheimer’s disease.
If an elderly family member is experiencing unexplained confusion and memory lapse, please visit a qualified doctor to get a proper diagnosis.
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What Is Alzheimer’s? – alz.org Alzheimer’s association – Accessed on 12 March 2016 – http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp
What is Alzheimer’s disease? – Alzheimer’s society – Accessed on 12 March-2016 – https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=100
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