What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a slowly progressing neurological condition. It results in the death of brain cells and the shrinking of the brain. Patients with Alzheimer’s go through multiple stages that affect memory, thinking, cognitive behavior, and simple life skills. The progressive loss of memory (dementia) is the most notable of all Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease causes slow and consistent loss of memory. Interestingly, patients with Alzheimer’s disease can remember incidences of the distant past but experience difficulty remembering recent events in the initial stages. Alzheimer’s disease causes extensive degeneration of brain cells with time and results in severe impairment of memory. The individual will lose the ability to carry out routine activities. It may result in death because of severe dehydration, malnutrition, infections, and bedsores. Alzheimer’s has neither any cure nor any remedy to slow down or arrest the disease progression.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a multi-factorial disease affecting the function of the brain. AD results due to
People who have Alzheimer’s disease are older. However, the condition is not a normal part of aging. Scientists do not know why some people get this disease and why some do not. However, the causes come from two kinds of nerve damage:
- Protein deposits known as beta-amyloid plaques that build up in the brain.
- Nerve cells form tangles, known as neurofibrillary tangles.
If you have parents or siblings with Alzheimer’s, you are at a higher risk of developing the disease. People with Down syndrome get this disease early. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels may increase your risk too.
What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
Loss of memory is the primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. An early indication of the disease involves difficulty remembering recent conversations and events.
Symptoms that affect memory
Most people experience occasional memory lapses, but that does not indicate they have Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s may:
- Forget appointments, conversations, or events.
- Repeat the same questions and statements multiple times.
- Get lost in familiar locations.
- Misplace possessions routinely.
- Have trouble expressing thoughts or participating in conversations.
- Have issues in planning and executing familiar tasks.
Routine activities or those requiring proper planning, such as playing a mind game or cooking a meal, become difficult as the disease progresses. Gradually, people at an advanced stage of the illness forget to perform basic tasks such as bathing and dressing.
Symptoms that affect behavior and personality
With the progress of the disease, the mood and behavior of the person gets affected to a great extent. This may include –
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Loss of inhibitions
- Aggressiveness and irritability
- Preserved Skills
Even as the disease worsens, many important skills such as drawing, dancing, craftwork, singing, listening to music, etc., are forgotten. These skills are affected at an advanced stage of the disease.
How Does Alzheimer’s Progress Through Stages?
You can identify the needs of an individual by learning how Alzheimer’s disease progresses through different phases. The dividing line between different stages is very thin. The following points attempt to guide you regarding the disease’s progression. One may not experience all symptoms described in the respective stage.
- An outwardly normal pattern of behavior – Alzheimer’s begins much before the symptoms become evident. It is almost impossible to detect the disease during the early stages unless you go for advanced imaging tests.
- Subtle changes – In this stage, minute differences in behavior may occur. Things such as difficulty recollecting the names of people or forgetting keys may escape your attention.
- The slow decline of memory – Till this stage, the individual can carry out routine chores independently. The third stage may involve a decline in the person’s reasoning ability. Assist the patient as there is a noticeable degradation of brain cells. You notice that the individual repeats the same questions, forgets recent discussions, and experiences difficulty planning anything. From now onwards, the patient will slowly lose the ability to function independently.
- Moderate degeneration – The symptoms are increasingly obvious as Alzheimer reaches the stage of moderate decline. Patients will find it hard to remember details about themselves or lose the ability to cook or complete activities that involve several steps. The individual will struggle to recollect simple details such as his/her own name, current date, and season of the year.
- The severe decline of brain functions – Losing track of date and time, the inability to converse, and the loss of dress sense can be some of the major signs of Alzheimer’s in a severely declining stage. Patients at this stage will experience delusion. They may forget their own address and lose their way. Someone will have to accompany them every time to avoid major mishaps.
- Extreme decline – This stage is the culmination of Alzheimer’s disease as the patient not only loses total memory but also an ability to sit, walk, talk, eat, and drink, to name a few. Attend to the patient constantly or shift the patient to a nursing home for round-the-clock care.
Some of these symptoms may not be associated with Alzheimer’s. Visit a physician if you suspect Alzheimer’s symptoms for a proper diagnosis.
Taking Care of Patients with Alzheimer’s
Take care of the patient with empathy and compassion by functioning as a memory bank for the patient right from the early stages. The individual will need your help to organize financial matters and other legal formalities. Complete these activities on priority as the patient will be unable to communicate and understand several things as the disease progresses.
Focusing on the safety of the individual with Alzheimer’s is vital. Offer the patient your help in arranging their wardrobe, laying out clothes, and other minor things to instill a sense of independence and confidence. Keep answering their questions even if they are repetitive. Patients with Alzheimer’s need reassurance and a sense of security. Keep the channels of communication open, even if the patient is experiencing delusions. Try to develop communication through touch as the patient loses the ability to converse. You may have to feed the patient in advanced stages. You may hire a nurse to look after the patient with Alzheimer’s in the final stages. Consult a physician at an established hospital to know more.
The diagnosis of AD
- Medical History
- Physical examination
- Neurological testing
- Neuropsychological evaluation
- Selective ancillary testing to exclude other causes
- Imaging modalities
A thorough history including family history has to be taken. Clinical evaluation related to symptoms and signs has to be performed. Clinical diagnosis of AD uses specific criteria and logical sequence.
The treatments available currently for Alzheimer’s are symptomatic. Remember that to date, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s. The medication available usually helps reduce certain neuropsychiatric symptoms, enhances or preserves cognitive abilities, and reduces patients’ suffering. The management of AD includes both pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods. Behavioral management is an important aspect of the treatment of AD.
The present treatment of Alzheimer’s improves the problems of reasoning and thinking and the symptoms of memory loss. The treatments enhance the performance of chemicals in the brain carrying information from one cell to another. However, these treatments do not stop the death and decline of brain cells. The disease continuously progresses as more cells die.
Experts are hopeful that such Alzheimer’s treatments are being developed that can either stop or delay its progression. An in-depth understanding of how the disease disrupts the functioning of the brain has resulted in identifying its treatment.
Visit a reputable hospital to know more about the treatment options for Alzheimer’s.
As discussed, there is no proper cure yet for AD. Hence, it is essential to take all possible measures to prevent its development. Prevention can be defined and managed at three levels, primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.
Primary prevention strategies focus on minimizing the incidence of AD by encouraging the maintenance of good health and lifestyle habits, thus excluding potential risk factors of the disease. Secondary prevention adopts methods to prevent the progression of AD to more aggressive phases right at the preclinical or very early stages. Tertiary prevention focuses on enhancing the quality of life after the patient manifests the disease.
Modifiable risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption have to be controlled to prevent the development of AD. Well-controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia can help prevent the occurrence and progression of the disease.
Certain factors that help prevent AD include omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, cognitive training, anti-diabetic drugs (well-controlled diabetes), exercise, well-controlled cardiovascular conditions, etc. Maintaining a healthy diet can help minimize the risk of AD development. Foods that help in prevention include fish, nuts, shellfish, olive oil, fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Food rich in antioxidants such as berries (strawberries, blueberries, cranberries), carrots, beetroot, etc., can be consumed.
When to See a Doctor?
Since it is difficult to understand the actual reason for memory loss, whether it is a sign of normal aging or early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, it is better to take medical help. Some indications that you may have Alzheimer’s include:
- Loss of memory.
- Difficulty performing daily tasks.
- Getting confused with place and time.
- Experiencing trouble with planning and problem-solving.
- Getting frustrated with conversations.
- Trouble with reading, judging colors, and distance.
- Keeping things in unusual places.
- Cutting off social ties.
- Experiencing mood swings.
Sometimes, these symptoms individually might be a result of some other health complications, but if you experience multiple problems together, it can be Alzheimer’s. Your doctor will evaluate your physical condition by conducting mental status tests such as assessment of thinking skills, memory, and problem-solving.
Request an appointment at Apollo Hospitals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, age-linked, neurodegenerative condition affecting mental functioning and brain activity (cognitive function).
How to identify Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage?
Patients with AD, at an early stage, show memory problems. Difficulty finding words, a decline in logical reasoning, certain vision and spatial issues, and problems with a sense of smell can be noted at an early stage.
Does Alzheimer’s affect only older people?
Alzheimer’s usually affects older people. However, early-onset dementia can be seen in people who are below 65 and even younger.
How to minimize the risk of developing Alzheimer’s?
Most of the time, Alzheimer’s is familial or genetic. However, certain sporadic cases can be minimized by altering specific risk factors. Avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, keeping blood pressure in control, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, etc., can help minimize the risk.
What diet helps lower the risk of AD?
A balanced diet constituting fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products, starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potato, rich sources of protein such as egg, fish, beans, food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, and ‘superfoods’ such as berries and red wine can help minimize the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.