What is Alzheimer’s Disease and How Can it Be Treated?

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Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic brain disorder that leads to a decline in memory, thinking abilities, and the general behaviour of an individual. It is one of the most common types of dementia and accounts for over 60 percent of all reported cases. It is a progressive complication that leads to the degeneration and death of brain cells.

Some facts about Alzheimer’s disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.
  • As the symptoms get worse, it becomes more difficult for the person to remember common things or identify people they know.
  • The effects of Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person. While some people live for a long time with minimal brain damage, others experience a rapid decline in cognitive functions.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease comes with a drop in the mental capability of a person. Certain signs are exhibited by those with Alzheimer’s that interfere with their abilities to function optimally. These symptoms can get worse over time. They include:

  • Memory loss
  • Reduced ability to learn new things
  • Difficulties with problem-solving.
  • Difficulties with speaking, reading, and writing
  • Impairments to reasoning, complex tasking, and exercising judgment
  • Changes in personality and behaviour
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and the community

The following symptoms show the presence of dementia. To further confirm the presence of Alzheimer’s, check for the following factors: 

  • A steady decline over months to years, rather than hours or days.
  • A reduction in the cognitive abilities of the individual

Stages of Alzheimer’s disease

The progression of Alzheimer’s is in seven stages:

Stage 1: In this first stage, there are no symptoms, and early diagnosis based on family history.

Stage 2: The first set of symptoms, such as forgetfulness, starts to appear at this stage. 

Stage 3: There is a reduction in memory and concentration levels at this stage. The symptoms are still mild and are only observed by only those very close to the person.

Stage 4: The fourth stage is the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, although it is still considered to be mild. Here, symptoms include memory loss and a reduction in the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Stage 5: At this stage, moderate or severe symptoms start to appear, and help should come from loved ones or caregivers.

Stage 6: At this point, a person with Alzheimer’s may need help with basic tasks such as eating.

Stage 7: This is the final stage of Alzheimer’s. There may be loss of speech or facial expressions.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s

This accounts for about 5 percent of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Usually, Alzheimer’s affects people that are up to 65 years or older, but people with a family history between the ages of 30 to 60 years can get affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s include mild memory loss and loss of concentration. It can be challenging to find the right words to use, and you may lose track of time. Mild vision problems such as trouble with telling distances can also occur.

Alzheimer’s vs Dementia

The terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are sometimes confused to mean the same thing. However, these conditions are different. Dementia is the broad name for a range of conditions characterised by a loss in cognitive functioning. It includes conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and others which can cause these symptoms. 

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Symptoms start gradually and are most likely to include a decline in cognitive function and language ability. The causes, symptoms, and treatments can be different for the different types of dementia, and a person can have more than one type of dementia.

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease

The death of brain cells causes Alzheimer’s disease. This is due to an uncommon build-up of two proteins in the brain known as Amyloid and Tau. These proteins, over time, damage the brain cells. They start from the part of the brain that controls memory, interfering with how the brain works and consequently leading to Alzheimer’s disease. 

Risk Factors

Some certain factors or habits tend to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These factors include:

  • Genes
  • Age
  • Family history: People whose family members have Alzheimer’s have a higher chance of getting it
  • A sedentary lifestyle or lack of regular physical exercise
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Social isolation
  • Smoking
  • Head trauma
  • Down syndrome
  • Gender: Women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s than men
  • Absence of quality sleep
  • Diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to get Alzheimer’s compared to those without it

Diagnosis 

The only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is to examine the brain tissues of a patient after death. Asides this, the doctor will carry out several examinations and tests to assess a patient’s mental abilities and determine whether it is Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. 

Your doctor will also make a record of your medical history and may inquire reports on the following:

  • Symptoms
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle and habits
  • Medical history of your first degree relatives (parents and siblings)
  • Current or past health conditions
  • Current or past medications

Your doctor may also carry out brain imaging studies to examine the brain for inflammation, bleeding, or other brain issues.

How to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Most of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are outside your control, but certain lifestyle changes may help to maximise brain functions and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. These activities help to improve your mental and cognitive abilities. They include:

  • Regular physical exercises
  • Mental stimulation: People who actively use their brains have better protection against brain cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s
  • Staying socially active
  • Quality sleep
  • Staying away from cigarettes
  • Healthy eating habits

Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications that can help slow down the progression of the disease as well as ease the symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe Donepezil or Rivastigmine as drugs for the early stages of Alzheimer’s. These drugs help to improve your memory by maintaining high levels of Acetylcholine in the brain.

Beyond the early stages, drugs like Donepezil and Memantine are used. Memantine helps to prevent the release of chemicals produced during Alzheimer’s, which causes damage to brain cells. 

Drugs that help relieve mood and emotion-related symptoms such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed. Your doctor will determine what medications are most appropriate for your treatment. 

Final note

Alzheimer’s disease is a complex health condition. There is no cure at the moment, but there are medications that can help slow down the rate of decline and improve your quality of life. 

It is imperative to talk to your doctor if you notice a symptom in you or your loved ones. They can help run a diagnosis and give you all the necessary things that you need to live happily for a very long time.

Read the next helpful post: How to Improve Your Memory

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