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Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

by Azka Munir · December 13, 2020

Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia.

It is a progressive disorder that leads to the degeneration of brain cells and their eventual death.

Dementia is an ongoing decline of conscious thinking, behavioral skills, and brain functionality which affects a person’s ability to live independently.

1.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown however, it affects people in old age.

Early signs include forgetting things and events but later it affects mental ability and memory severely.

types of Alzheimer's disease

 

People with Alzheimer’s may lose the ability to fulfill their everyday tasks and the ability to carry them.

Currently available treatment can slow down the process of decline and provide some betterment in functionality to live independently.

However, none of these provide any permanent cure.

The medications do not change the disease process.

The later stages of Alzheimer’s lead to more serious loss of brain functionality causing dehydration, malnutrition and eventually death. It becomes the leading cause of death in the elderly.

 

2.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease occurs slowly over the years.

Some of the symptoms may be confused with old age and other diseases.

However, the rate of progression of the disease can differ from person to person.

symptoms of Alzheimer's

Memory Loss

Memory issues are the main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, the person with Alzheimer would encounter memory loss and lapses.

An Alzheimer’s patient may have difficulty recalling things and organizing their thoughts.

It is normal to forget things occasionally and we have all been there. However, an Alzheimer’s patient would persistently show signs of memory loss.

They might:

  • forget and misplace things, often putting in odd places
  • forget recent events, conversations and would not even recall them later
  • ask repeatedly and say things again and again
  • get lost in places they are familiar with
  • Do not try inserting tampons, suppositories or creams in the vagina.
  • have difficulty remembering a word or name

In later stages, there might be increased confusion and inability to even remember the names of family members.

Inability to Make Decisions

An Alzheimer’s patient will have poor judgment and will be unable to make reasonable decisions.

In fact, they make choose wrongly in decisive situations because due to confusion, they may find it extremely hard to make any decision.

You will find them wearing inappropriate clothes with regard to the weather or being unresponsive to food burning on the stove.

Affecting Thinking and Ability to Reason

Alzheimer’s patients may find it difficult to recall numbers, names and places in earlier stages.

They will show difficulty remembering the right word to put in a sentence.

They may especially confuse numbers and abstract concepts.

Multitasking will become increasingly difficult and it is no longer an easy task to manage finances.

In later stages, this may become an inability to recognize numbers.

Unable to Carry out Familiar Routine Tasks

Performing familiar tasks becomes increasingly difficult as the disease progresses.

It may start from an inability to plan everyday tasks to gradually become severe like having difficulty swallowing.

The routine tasks that were no big deal will now become a hassle.

Later stages of Alzheimer’s disease may cause extreme distress to the patient and family.

An Alzheimer’s patient will be unable to change position and move, have difficulty eating and dressing and would unintentionally pass urine.

Changing Behavior

The brain processes affect mood and behavior patterns.

An Alzheimer’s patient will easily get depressed, undergo mood swings, develop apathy and irritability.

They may also get increasingly aggressive, distance themselves socially and show impulsive behavior.

They are also more likely to develop delusions in mid-stage Alzheimer’s.

An Alzheimer’s patient may develop suspicions and distrust against family and caregivers as well as being paranoid like thinking someone has stolen their stuff.

It can later lead to troubled sleep, anxiety and frustration.

Skills and abilities like reading, listening to music, remembering stories and doing crafts may exist and persevere for a longer time span. These abilities are affected in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.

In middle and later stages of Alzheimer’s, the patient may have difficulty with speech, can develop hallucinations, have difficulty using the toilet, washing, and dressing up.

In extreme later stages, there will be weight loss, difficulty eating and even loss of speech.

When both middle and later stage symptoms appear, the Alzheimer’s patient will require assistance to perform routine tasks.

3.

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s can result from a mixture of genetic makeup, environmental factors and lifestyle habits that affect the brain.

Alzheimer’s is said to be linked with the buildup of brain proteins that hinder the functionality of neurons and firstly affect memory.

brain

These abnormal brain proteins build-up affects the neurons and releases toxic events that eventually cause the neurons to get damaged, disconnected from each other and die.

This neurons loss spreads to other regions of the brain and at the last stage of Alzheimer’s, the brain shrinks to a significant amount.

Alongside brain cells (neurons), neurotransmitters also decrease which are responsible for sending signals between cells.

Alzheimer’s patients usually have low acetylcholine neurotransmitters in their brain tissue.

Two proteins are prominently involved in this process:

Beta-amyloid

This is a fragment of  protein that accumulate and result in a toxic effect on neurons.

Thus inhibiting the cell to cell communication.

Beta-amyloid fragment clusters also form amyloid plaques which result in Alzheimer’s disease.

Tau Proteins

The change in the genetic makeup of Tau proteins leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Tau proteins carry nutrients in neurons internal transport and support system.

Tau proteins become neurofibrillary tangles by changing shape and then hinder these neurons’ support and transport system becoming toxic to neurons.

 

4.

Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease

Age is considered the most prominent factor of Alzheimer’s.

In fact, the chances of getting Alzheimer’s increases twice every 5 years after the age of 65.

However, factors like genetics and lifestyle can equally affect your chances of getting Alzheimer’s.

woman with husband

Age

Alzheimer’s isn’t considered a part of aging. However, it is the chance of getting Alzheimer’s that increases with age.

People aged 65 to 71 have a 2 in 1000 likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s and people aged 75 to 84 have 11 in 1000 chances.

However, Alzheimer’s is not limited to old age.

1 in 20 people can get Alzheimer’s before the age of 65.

People above the age of 40 can get early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Family History of Alzheimer’s Disease

If your family has a history of Alzheimer’s or a certain family member suffers from it then you are at a higher risk of getting it too.

Alzheimer’s can be passed on from one generation to another due to a gene that mutates.

This change in genetic makeup can increase the risks of the disease being carried on.

If you do have Alzheimer’s disease in your family then consult AlQudrahMC for a checkup and genetic counselling.

Sex

The disease itself shows little difference among sexes but more patients of Alzheimer’s are women.

This is because women have a higher life expectancy hence, they can reach old age when they are more likely to get the risk of developing Alzheimer.

Down Syndrome

People with Down Syndrome are at a higher risk because of three copies of genes due to the extra chromosome.

Therefore, there are more beta-amyloid and people with Down Syndrome get Alzheimer’s 10 to 20 years before others.

Sleeping Patterns

Research shows that people with poor sleeping habits like sleeping less or sleeping at most times can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Hence a healthy sleeping pattern is required to live a good lifestyle and prevent Alzheimer’s.

Other Diseases and Problems

Having a head trauma or injury can increase your risk of getting Alzheimer’s.

Moreover, Mild cognitive impairment is more likely to progress into a type of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Lifestyle habits related to cardiovascular disease can also increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.

These include obesity, smoking, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes as well as no exercise.

Learning

Researches found out that learning and participating in mentally and socially involving activities can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

There is a relation in people getting Alzheimer’s who only have completed high school.

So lifelong learning and being a part of socially stimulating activities reduces your chances of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other factors like hearing loss, incurred depression and prolonged loneliness can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s but there is less evidence to support this yet.

 

5.

Diagnosis

Self-assessment and reporting symptoms are key to diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. This can be heard for the patient to report themselves.

Therefore it is vital that a family member reports them so the doctor can carry out additional tests.

Alzheimer's diagnosis

Physical Exam

A physical exam will test your ability to walk, see, hear, your reflexes, the strength of your muscles, and your coordination as well as balance.

The physical test will examine your overall neurological health.

Mental Tests

These are done to check for your thinking skills, mental health and your memory by doing cognitive assessments.

Memory loss may not specifically result from Alzheimer’s.

Therefore a series of tests diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Your doctor will test your orientation, communication skills and concentration. But these results could also differ depending on the person’s education level.

Brain Imaging Scans

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Computerized tomography (CT) scans help to rule out other complications that have similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease.

An MRI can also show brain shrinkage but it is not enough to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

A CT scan will eliminate the possibility of tumors and strokes.

Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET  (positron emission tomography) scan can show poorly metabolized nutrients in the parts of the brain. These can highlight the degeneration of neurons thus pointing to Alzheimer’s.

 

6.

Treatment

There is no complete cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet.

However, medications can help lessen the symptoms and slow the progress.

doctor with elder

Conclusion

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

They preserve a chemical messenger in the brain.

This chemical messenger depletes and destroys in Alzheimer’s disease and this medication helps in boosting the cell to cell communications.

These inhibitors can also improve other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease like depression. However, they also have side effects.

These include nausea, sleep pattern disturbance and loss of appetite. The side effects can get serious for people with cardiac problems.

Memantine (Namenda)

This medication slows the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in the mid to late stage.

Memantine blocks the effects of a chemical, glutamate present in the brain.

The side effects are not severe just, dizziness and constipation.

Conclusion

The proper diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can only happen after death when examining the brain cells for plaques or tangles.

However, you can reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease from a young age.

Quit smoking, exercise more, eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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