What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative condition. It is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It destroys brain cells, causing the ability to carry simple tasks, the ability and memory, to deteriorate over time.
Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference?
While the terms ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ and ‘Dementia’ are often used interchangeably, it is important to know the difference between the two but both are common in older people.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, Dementia is not.
Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life. It is not a specific disease, but several diseases may cause dementia. It is caused by damage to brain cells that affects their ability to communicate. which can affect behavior, feelings, and thinking.
What causes Dementia?
There are many forms of dementia and each has its own causes.
The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), Huntington’s disease, Alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Early Signs of Alzheimer:
- Progressive and frequent memory loss
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks
- Personality change
- Apathy and withdrawal
It is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is trouble remembering new information because the disease typically impacts the part of the brain associated with learning first.
As Alzheimer’s advances, symptoms get more severe and include disorientation, confusion, and behaviour changes. Eventually, speaking, swallowing, or walking becomes difficult.
10 Facts about Alzheimer’s Disease:
1- Alzheimer’s disease gets its name from the doctor who first identified it- Alois Alzheimer
Alzheimer’s disease was identified in 1906, after a German physiatrist and neuroanatomist Dr. Alois Alzheimer examined the brain of a deceased patient who had experienced “memory loss, language problems, and unexpected behaviour”.
In looking at the patient’s brain tissue after her death five years later, Alzheimer found unusual protein plaques (amyloid-beta plaques) and tangles of fiber (tau clusters).
Amyloid-beta plaques form between neurons and disrupt their ability to communicate with each other. Tau tangles form inside the neurons themselves, blocking their transport system and therefore also harming the synaptic communication between neurons.
2- Your heart and your head are closely related:
Heart disease can raise your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Other conditions that cause heart disease are also linked to a higher risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease including:
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet
- Non-active lifestyle
- High cholesterol
Heart disease may also be a cause of vascular dementia, which results from narrowed blood vessels in the brain. This leads to a decrease in oxygen to brain tissues.
3- More women have Alzheimer’s:
Nearly twice as many women have Alzheimer’s disease as men- According to the US Department of Health and Human Services
Brain shrinkage tends to be more severe in women with Alzheimer’s disease than in men with the disease. Researchers suggest that brain changes in women with Alzheimer’s disease may be due to other causes’
4- Alzheimer’s disease affects the structure of the brain:
Alzheimer’s disease alters the structure of the brain. It is a well-known fact that Alzheimer’s can cause ventricles in the brain to enlarge due to shrinkage of other parts of the brain like the cerebral cortex. These changes can lead to difficulty in detecting movement, directing gaze toward an object, and changes in how the pupils react to light.
5- Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease:
Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. One in 10 individuals over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 are affected. Rare inherited forms of Alzheimer’s Disease can strike individuals as early as their 30’s and 40’s.
6- More than half of all people with Alzheimer’s disease are unaware that they have it:
Out of approximately 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s more than half do not know that they have it. In part because of the difficulty with detecting early-stage Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) many of those with Alzheimer’s remain undiagnosed.
7- Alzheimer’s disease may affect an individual’s sense of smell:
An appalling fact about Alzheimer’s from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reveals that a person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may lose their sense of smell. This change could also be due to other factors including brain injury, sinus infection, and Parkinson’s disease.
8- No test can definitively predict late-onset Alzheimer’s
There is no test yet to predict if someone will get late-onset Alzheimer’s, in which symptoms become apparent in a person’s mid-60s. If someone is worried about changes in his or her memory or other problems with thinking, he or she should talk to a doctor.
9- A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does not mean that your life is over:
If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, do not automatically assume that your life will now come to an end. You can still maintain a productive, meaningful, and enjoyable life for years to come. It is believed that doing your part in terms of a balanced lifestyle could help slow down the progression of this disease or at least improve select symptoms. That means eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, staying socially connected, and trying to manage stress levels can all improve your quality of life.
10- Active learning may lower people’s Alzheimer’s risk:
Research has shown that active learning can lower people’s chances of developing a memory loss condition. This is especially true as individuals enter their later years of life. Those who take classes, challenge themselves to new activities, such as learning a new skill or language, and engage in group activities have a lower risk of cognitive impairment. Learning in social environments is particularly beneficial, which is why many seniors experiencing memory loss move to an Alzheimer’s care home where they are surrounded by friends and are at lower risk of isolation.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
Memory loss is a key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. An early sign of the disease is usually difficulty remembering recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, memory impairments worsen, and other symptoms develop. Many people experience mild forgetfulness or memory delays, which are part of the normal aging process. We all have occasional difficulty remembering a word or someone’s name. A person with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, however, will find such symptoms becoming more and more frequent and severe.
The symptoms appear gradually, over months or years. If they develop over hours a day, a person may require medical attention, as this could indicate a stroke.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
1-Memory loss- A person may have difficulty taking in new information and remembering information. This can lead to:
- Losing objects
- Repeating questions or conversations
- Forgetting about events or appointments
- Wandering or getting lost
2- Personality or behaviour changes- A person may experience changes in personality and behaviour that include:
- A loss of empathy
- Becoming upset, worried, or angry more often than before
- A loss of interest in motivation for activities they usually enjoy
- Compulsive, obsessive, or socially inappropriate behaviour
3- Problems with spatial awareness- A person may have difficulty with their balance, trip over, or spill things more often or they may have difficulty orienting clothing to their body when getting dressed.
4- Problems with recognition- A person may become less able to recognize faces or objects or less able to use basic tools. These issues are not due to eyesight problems.
5- Cognitive deficits- A person may have trouble with reasoning, complex tasks, and judgment. This can lead to:
- Difficulty making decisions
- Difficulty with money or paying bills
- Difficulty completing tasks that have several stages
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease can range from mild to severe. The sections below will discuss the stages of Alzheimer’s and some of the symptoms that characterize them
1- The Early Stage:
It refers to people of any age who have mild impairment due to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Common symptoms include:
- Mild coordination problems
- Difficulty learning new things
- Mood shafts including apathy and depression
2- The middle stage:
The middle stage brings a greater decline in the person’s cognitive and functional abilities. This stage often seems the longest and everyone involved will need help and support. Someone with the condition may find it increasingly difficult to remember the names of people they know and may struggle to recognize their family and friends.
Other symptoms may also develop such as:
- Problems with speech or language (aphasia)
- Disturbed sleep
- Seeing or hearing things that other people do not (hallucination)
- Changings in moods, such as frequent mood swings, depression, and feeling increasingly anxious, frustrated, or agitated.
- Delusions (believing that are untrue) or feeling paranoid and suspicious about careers or family members.
- Obsessive, repetitive, or impulsive behavior
3- Later symptoms:
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms become increasingly severe and can be distressing for the person with the condition.
Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease can be violent, demanding, and suspicious of those around them.
Several other symptoms may also develop al Alzheimer’s disease progresses, such as:
- Difficulty eating and swallowing (dysphagia)
- Weight loss-sometimes severe
- The gradual loss of speech
- Significant problems with long- and short-term memory
- Unintentional passing of urine (urinary incontinence) or stools (bowel incontinence)
In the severe stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people may need full-time care and assistance with eating, moving, and personal care.
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease:
As brain cells become affected, there is also a decrease in chemical messengers called (neurotransmitters) involved in sending messages, or signals between brain cells.
Levels of one neurotransmitter, acetylcholine are particularly low in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other dementias is increasing age, but these disorders are not a normal part of aging.
Most individuals with the disease are 65 and older. After age 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. After age 85, the risk nearly reaches one third.
2- Family History
The genes you inherit from your parents can contribute to your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, although the actual increase in risk is small.
But in a few families, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the inheritance of a single gene and the risks of the condition being passed on are much higher.
If several of your family members have developed dementia over the generations, and particularly at a young age, you may want to seek genetic counseling for information and advice about your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease when you are older.
3- Cardiovascular Disease
Research shows that several lifestyle factors and conditions associated with cardiovascular disease can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
4- Down’s syndrome
People with down’s syndrome are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This is because the genetic fault that causes down’s syndrome can also cause amyloid plaques to build up in the brain over time, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
5- Head Injuries
People who have had a severe head injury may be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but much research is still needed in this area.
Other Risk Factors
In addition, the latest research suggests that other factors are also important, although this does not mean these factors are directly responsible for causing dementia.
- Hearing loss
- Untreated depression (depression can also be one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
- A sedentary lifestyle
Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease
There is no proper cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are some medicines that seem to be slowing the breakdown of a brain chemical called, acetylcholine, which helps nerve cells slow down its process, especially in the early stages.
- Tacrine (Cognex)
This was the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It worked the brain to send messages to each other. Because this drug causes liver damage, it was taken off the market in 2012.
- Donepezil (Aricept) Galantamine (Razadyne, formerly known as Reminyl), and Rivastigmine (Exelon). This medication works in the same way as Cognex but does not have the same bad side effects. They may improve how well the brain works in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and delay how fast symptoms get worse.
- Memantine (Namenda) This drug keeps brain cells from using too much of a brain chemical called glutamate, which Alzheimer’s damaged cells make too much of. The drug seems to protect against nerve damage and has fewer side effects than other drugs.
It is important to understand that alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are not widely supported in the medical community. Some of these treatments have been found to be beneficial. If you are interested in alternative treatments, then talk with a doctor first.
1- Coral Calcium
Most people get enough calcium for their diet. But some people advocate coral calcium as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. It is derived from seashells and sea life. Coral calcium has not been proven beneficial in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine that is believed to promote self-healing by using fine, sterile needles. This therapy is thought to stimulate the body and improve the flow of energy.
According to some studies, acupuncture may improve mood and cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
This therapy uses essential oils to enhance well-being. One short-term study tested aromatherapy on a group of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease. At the end of the study, every person involved showed improvement in their thinking abilities.
The essential oils used in the study included: