Alzheimer’s disease – Must knows!
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder which results in atrophy(brain shrinkage) & the death of brain cells. Let us see in detail about the symptoms, stages, causes, risks, prognosis, treatment & complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
The prevalent reason for Alzheimer’s disease is dementia (loss of memory, language, problem-solving.) It is found that 5.8 million individuals of age 65 and above in the United States have this disease. Older populations are the ones who’re mostly affected by this and throughout the world out of 50 million people with dementia, it has been evaluated that 60 – 70% have Alzheimer’s disease. Medicines help out for sometime but there is no treatment to cure this disease. Advanced stages of the disease may lead to death. Early signs – forgetting conversations & current incidents. As Alzheimer’s disease advances weakened memory and difficulty with daily tasks will be seen.
This condition worsens with time. Loss of memory is a main symptom which is the first symptom to arise. Symptoms will arise moderately but if it develops in a matter of days, immediate medical care is required. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is discussed below:
1.Memory loss: This can be identified if a person is
- repeating questions
- losing objects
- forgetting about important incidents
- getting lost
2.Cognitive deficits: results in difficulty with reasoning and judging. This causes
- Risks with personal safety and
- difficulty with handling money
- A hard time to take decisions
- Straining to finish tasks that have many steps (getting dressed)
3.Difficulty with recognition:Becomes hard to recognize faces/ objects/ unable to use basic tools.
4.Problems with spatial awareness: Difficulty with balance resulting in tripping over, spilling things often
5.Problems with speaking, reading, or writing: Develop difficulties with thinking of common words, or they may make more errors while speaking, spelling, or writing.
6.Personality / behavior changes:
- becomes upset, angry, or worried a lot
- loss of interest in activities they like
- loss of empathy
- socially inappropriate behavior
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
The stages of this condition ranges from mild to severe. The stages of Alzheimer’s disease & the some symptoms for the respective stages is mentioned below.
1.Mild Alzheimer’s disease
Individuals with mild Alzheimer’s disease experience problems with their memory and cognitive difficulties that includes:
- Longer time to do daily tasks
- Trouble with handling money
- personality & behavior changes( mood changes easily, pacing)
2.Moderate Alzheimer’s disease
In this stage, impairment of the parts of brain which is responsible for language, senses, reasoning, and consciousness.
- greater memory loss & confusion
- Struggling to recognizing friends / family
- inability to learn new things
- straining to finish tasks that have many steps (getting dressed)
- impulsive behavior
- Hallucinations & delusions
3.Severe Alzheimer’s disease
In this stage, plaques(abnormal buildup) and tangles are seen in brain, causing the brain tissue to shrink . This results in:
- Not being able to communicate
- depending on others for care
- Being bedridden
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease:
The correct reason for this disease is not completely known but it is understood that proteins of the brain fails to work as usual which in turn damages neurons work; causing a continuous link of toxic events. Neurons are damaged they lose connections to each other and die. Researchers think that Alzheimer’s disease is the result of genetic (caused lesser than 1 %), lifestyle and environmental factors that impair brain on the long run.
Roles of two main proteins is what the scientists are trying to decipher; they are:
- Plaques – they are abnormal Beta-amyloid buildup . When they gather together they’re toxic to neurons & affects cell communication. They form deposits called amyloid plaques.
- Tangles – Tau proteins are vital in internal support and transport system. Whereas in this disease tau proteins shift into neurofibrillary tangles & interrupt the transport which is toxic to the cells.
Risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Age: Increasing age is the most common risk factor for this disease. Normal aging does not involve Alzheimer’s but it is likely that as a person grows they may develop this condition.
- Family history & genetics: If a close family member or relative has Alzheimer’s the risk of getting this disease is more.
- Down syndrome: Most of the individuals with Down syndrome develop this disease. This is because of having 3 copies of chromosome 21 leading to 3 copies of the gene for the protein that creates beta-amyloid.
- Mild cognitive impairment: is a decline in memory / thinking skills that is greater than normal for a person’s age, but the decline doesn’t prevent a person from functioning in social or work environments.
- Head trauma: Severe head trauma invokes the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Air pollution: Speeds up the degeneration of the nervous system & increase the risk of getting dementia.
- Too much alcohol consumption: causes brain change & poses as a risk for early-onset dementia.
- Bad sleeping habits: Studies show that poor sleeping patterns(having a hard time staying asleep / falling asleep are linked to increased risk of this disease.
- Lifestyle & heart health: Studies revealed that the risks of heart disease makes Alzheimer’s risk rise higher. They are Lack of exercise, Obesity, Smoking or secondhand smoke inhalation.
Prognosis of Alzheimer’s disease:
An individual facing memory loss, behavioral changes/cognitive decline giving them a hard time in doing daily tasks; needs to check for Alzheimer’s. Loved ones notice symptoms of dementia first. The physician may ask about the symptoms, experiences, and medical history. They may also do the following tests:
- cognitive and memory tests( to test thinking , remembering)
- neurological function tests (to test balance, senses, and reflexes)
- blood & urine tests
- a CT scan /MRI scan of the brain
- genetic testing
Treatment for Alzheimer’s :
No cure is there for this disease as it is impossible to reverse brain cells death. Despite this treatment helps to relieve symptoms and make it easier for both the individual,/family & caregivers.
Important steps in dementia care:
- Proper management of conditions occurring arising with Alzheimer’s
- activities and daycare programs
- support groups and services
Medicines & treatments for behavioral changes:
For cognitive symptoms – cholinesterase, eases symptoms & slows their progression.
Three approved drugs to treat Alzheimer’s are:
- donepezil (Aricept), used to treat all stages
- galantamine (Razadyne),used to treat mild & moderate stages
- rivastigmine (Exelon),used to treat mild & moderate stages
Memantine (Namenda) drug is also permitted to treat moderate & severe stages.
Emotion & behavior treatments
Identifying & treating underlying reasons such as discomfort from other medical conditions,etc & triggers such as new caregivers/environment,etc.
In few cases, the physician may suggest medications:
- Antidepressants( for low mood)
- antianxiety drugs
- antipsychotic drugs( for hallucinations, delusions, or aggression)
In the final stage of the disease, complications lead to death.
Prevention of Alzheimer’s :
This disease is not preventable but many lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk factors.
Heart-healthy lifestyle habits help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, they are:
- Exercise regularly
- A good diet of fresh produce, healthy oils and foods low in saturated fat
- Managing high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol
- Getting doctor’s advice to quit smoking if you smoke
Research has shown that partaking in mentally and socially triggering activities for a long time (lifelong) reduces the risks of this condition. These activities include participating in social events, reading, dancing, playing board games, playing an instrument, and other activities requiring mental and social engagement.
Symptoms like memory loss and all of Alzheimer’s can make it difficult to treat other health conditions. It is because they cannot:
- Communicate they’re experiencing pain
- Explain symptoms of another illness
- Follow a given treatment plan
- Explain medication side effects
Alzheimer’s disease last stages causes brain changes & affects physical functions(swallowing, balance, bowel and bladder control.) This will lead to the risk of other health problems such as:
- Inhaling food / liquid into the lungs (aspiration)
- Flu, pneumonia and other infections
- Malnutrition / dehydration
- Constipation / diarrhea
- Dental problems
Alzheimer’s disease ICD 10 is not curable and treatment helps just to ease and to improve the quality of living. Avoiding unhealthy practices which impair our lives like following irregular sleep schedules, unhealthy diet practices, etc,. can help reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is hard to deal with alone but we must be aware of the many programs and services available to support people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. Let us keep our health first before everything else and follow the right practices for a healthy living.
- Hi there, my name is Subin Joshua, and I am a Medical student. I grew up in a family of teachers and know that being a social worker is my calling. My passion for helping others has been evident in my involvement in helping the poor and needy for the last three years. Through those experiences, I have learned to interact with a diverse group of people, which has increased my ability to relate to others.