Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects millions of people around the world. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults.
It is characterised by a gradual decline in memory, language and problem-solving skills. As the disease progresses, patients may experience changes in personality and behaviour, as well as difficulty with basic activities of daily living.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, treatment and management strategies are available to help people live as independently and comfortably as possible. This can include medications to help manage symptoms, as well as lifestyle changes and support services.
Types of Alzheimer’s Disease
While each type of Alzheimer’s has its own unique symptoms, they all share the same basic characteristics: memory loss, confusion and difficulty with daily activities.
It’s the most common type, which typically begins after age of 65.
Symptoms of late-onset Alzheimer’s can include memory loss, difficulty with language, poor judgment and difficulty with everyday tasks.
The cause of the disease is still unknown, but scientists believe it is related to a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur between the ages of 30 and 60, and it is less common than late-onset Alzheimer’s.
It is characterised by a gradual decline in memory and thinking abilities, as well as changes in behaviour and personality.
As with other forms of Alzheimer’s, the cause of early-onset Alzheimer’s is unknown. However, researchers believe that genetics may be a contributing factor in some cases.
Another type of Alzheimer’s is familial Alzheimer’s disease, which is caused by inherited genetic mutations that increase the risk of developing the condition.
Posterior Cortical Atrophy
It is largely due to Alzheimer’s but other neurological diseases may contribute to it too. It affects parts of the brain that control vision and spatial abilities.
Signs and Symptoms
Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include problems with memory, planning, organisation and language. The most common early symptom is forgetting newly learned information, especially recent events, places and names.
Also, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can vary depending on the stage of the condition, but some of the most common include:
You must bear in mind that these signs and symptoms do not imply that you have Alzheimer’s. It is your doctor who can take a call based on these and arrive at a conclusive diagnosis.
Causes and Risk Factors
While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, there are a number of factors that have been linked to the development of the disease.
Science has been trying to understand the cause of Alzheimer’s disease from research data gathered by studying two proteins, which are:
Plaques are deposits of protein fragments called amyloid-beta that accumulate in the spaces between neurons, while tangles are made up of tau protein fibers that form within neurons. These plaques and tangles disrupt the connections between neurons, which leads to the decline in cognitive function that is typical of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, the plaques and tangles can lead to inflammation and damage to the cells in the brain, which further contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, research is ongoing to better understand how plaques and tangles contribute to the disease and to develop treatments that target them.
There are risk factors that can increase an individual’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The most common risk factors include:
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a complex process that involves a number of tests and assessments.
In general, it begins with a physical exam and a series of cognitive tests to measure memory, language skills, problem-solving abilities and other mental functioning.
Doctors may also use brain imaging techniques, such as MRI and CT scans, to look for changes in the structure of the brain, as well as blood tests to look for changes in the levels of certain proteins.
Doctors may also ask for additional information from family members about changes in behaviour or personality.
Once the tests are done and assessments complete, the doctor will review the results and make a diagnosis.
Treatment and Management
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are a number of treatments that can help slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life. These include medications to help control symptoms and improve cognition and lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, maintaining healthy diet and staying socially connected can also help.
Cognitive stimulation and reminiscence therapy can help improve memory and thinking skills.
Caregivers should also focus on providing emotional support, assistance with daily activities and help patients with decision-making.
Medications for Alzheimer’s Disease
Medications for Alzheimer’s work by slowing down the progression of the disease or helping to mitigate symptoms.
Commonly prescribed medications include:
Please note that these are prescription medications, and not all of them may not be appropriate for you. Rather, discuss with your doctor your treatment options based on a proper diagnosis of your condition.
Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?
The answer to this question can’t be straightforward, as the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown. However, there are a few key steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The most important step is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and staying mentally active.
It is also important to manage any existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
It’s important to keep your brain active by reading, solving puzzles and playing challenging games.
Research suggests that social engagement may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Therefore, it is important to stay connected with family and friends.
Make sure you get regular check-ups and screenings to stay on top of your health.
Some studies have suggested that taking certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and B vitamins, may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Can Genes Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?
Researchers have identified a number of genetic factors that are associated with an increased risk for the disease.
The most notable of these is a gene called APOE-e4, which is found in approximately 15 percent of the population. Studies have shown that having this gene increases a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s by three to five times.
There are also other genes that may also contribute to an increased risk for the disease.
While it is important to be aware of the genetic factors associated with Alzheimer’s, it is equally important to remember that genetics are not the only factor in developing the disease. Environmental factors, lifestyle and age can all play a role in determining your risk for Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s: How to Care for Your Dear Ones?
Caring for your loved ones with Alzheimer’s can be challenging, but it can also be a rewarding experience for you. Even if you can’t change the outcome of their illness, you can make sure that their days are filled with your love and comfort.
Whether it’s you or any one in your family or friends, reaching out by helping and comforting can go a long way in the management of Alzheimer’s.
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Sources: Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s Association, Cleveland Clinic, CDC, NHS, Medical News Today, PubMed, Healthline, NCBI (1, 2), NIH.