A progressive brain disorder that destroys a person’s memory, thinking skills and ultimately the ability to perform the simplest of everyday tasks. The process is irreversible and symptoms generally appear around the age of 60. It is the most common cause of dementia among elderly people. The initial damage apparently takes places in the hippocampus (small region in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, part of the limbic system). The brain suffers specific modifications: protein build-ups named plaques (amyloid plaques) and tangles (tau tangles, neurofibrillary) affect nerve cell connectivity which leads to nerve cell death and brain tissue loss. The disease has three stages: a preclinical one with no symptoms, a mild cognitive impairment middle-stage and the final stage – Alzheimer’s dementia. Life expectancy after diagnosis: 3-4 years (if the person is older-around 80 years old) and up to 10 years for younger people.

Causes

Causes are not completely understood, but it is believed that for the majority of cases the disease is produced by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental aspects

The amyloid plaques (protein clumps) damage and destroy brain cells

The tangles (abnormal threads of tau protein – normally help in nutrient transportation) compromise the support and nutrient transport system of the brain

Risk factors: advanced age, family history and genetics (a first degree relative has/had Alzheimer), Down syndrome

Symptoms and signs

 

Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease: mild stage

Difficulty in remembering things

Asking the same question several times

Poor orientation, getting lost

Inability to resolve simple math problems (trouble handling money)

Losing things or misplacing them

Personality and behavioral changes

 

Moderate Alzheimer’s: brain areas responsible with language, reasoning, conscious thoughts and sensory processing are affected

Memory loss and confusion

Difficulty in recognizing family, friends

Difficulty in getting dressed (performing certain tasks)

Inability to learn new things and deal with new situations

Hallucinations, delusions

Impulsivity

 

Severe Alzheimer’s:

Complete dependence on others for help

Unable to communicate

The whole body starts to shut down – becoming bedridden

Seizures

Weight loss

Skin infections

Groaning, moaning

Difficulty swallowing

Loss of bladder and bowel control

Increased sleeping

Advice

 

Specialized doctors: geriatricians (health care for older adults), geriatric psychiatrists, neurologists, neuropsychologists

In order to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease the doctor will resort to memory tests, problem solving, counting, attention and language exercises

Lab tests: blood and urine to identify other causes

Brain scans: MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography) or PET (positron emission tomography)

The patient and a close relative/friend will be asked about the patient’s general health, medical history, possible behavioral and personality changes, daily routine and ability to carry out daily tasks

Early diagnosis can help in planning for the future, assessing financial and legal problems, taking into consideration safety issues, setting up living arrangements and developing a support network for the patient

Studies have proved that lifelong mentally and socially engaging activities reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease at the moment, there are several clinical trials underway regarding possible cures and prevention

Support groups and specially designed programs are available and recommended

MISCONCEPTIONS
  •  

    Alzheimer’s disease is always passed on to one’s children

     

    It is the disease of the elderly

     

    If you have any type of memory loss, it automatically means you will get Alzheimer’s disease

     

    This disease can be prevented. Taking supplements can keep it away

Statistics

 

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease

 

More than 520,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the UK

Did you know?

 

Alzheimer’s disease is ranked as the sixth cause of death in the USA and as the third for people of old age

 

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease seems to be around 10 years before the first symptoms appear. Toxic processes are taking place in the brain in this preclinical stage even if the person has no symptoms

 

Women seem to be more prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease (because, statistically, they tend to live longer).