Alzheimer’s is a common disease affecting the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia that is associated with brain functioning such memory, language, thinking and problem solving. Although these changes may seem very minor and insignificant at start but eventually they aggravate to affect everyday living of the person.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
This medical condition gets its name from the doctor, Alois Alzheimer, who first discovered and described the disease to be a physical medical condition affecting the brain. In UK alone there are more than 5.20 lacs people living with this disease. The disease causes proteins to build up in the brain leading to formation of crystals called plaques and tangles. Due to this build up there occurs a loss of connection between the nerve cells which eventually causes the nerve cells to die.
Those suffering from the Alzheimer’s disease lack some essential chemicals in the brain which are messengers that help transmitting signals to and fro the brain. Due to this shortage the messages are not transmitted effectively which affects the brain functioning causing symptoms like loss of memory, confusion, lack of decision making ability and inability to decipher messages effectively.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that develops slowly and progresses further as more and more parts of the brain get damaged. The progression can be seen in the symptoms as they go on to becoming more severe gradually.
Are there specific signs and symptoms that help early diagnosis?
Alzheimer’s symptoms do not crop up all of a sudden and in most cases are very mild to begin with. In fact the symptoms are so mild that often they are taken as casual forgetfulness and so on. However, as they worsen they could bring about a drastic change in the life and lifestyle of the patient living with the disease. Like many other diseases two people can experience different symptoms of Alzheimer’s; however there are some common symptoms that are unique to the disease.
The most frequently experienced symptom in this disease is that of loss of memory. Also known as memory lapses, one tends to find it difficult to recall recent events and grasping new information. In Alzheimer’s there occurs damage to a part of the brain which is known as the hippocampus.
This part is the memory reservoir and processing unit of the brain. In the early symptoms one does not forget the memories that occurred earlier but finds keeping recent memory in store difficult. Small things that are generally associated with the memory or the remembering capacity of the brain include: remembering where you kept items and objects of everyday use like keys, wallet etc.; remembering names of people you deal with; recent conversations and events that may have occurred; familiar ways; appointments or important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. In the early signs of Alzheimer’s all or few of the above memory related functions may be forgotten by the brain.
As the disease progresses, the problems connected with the brain functioning go on becoming more complex involving other functions such as thinking, reasoning, language or communication. Following are the main difficulties faced by people suffering from Alzheimer’s symptoms:
- Finding it difficult to follow a conversation or repeating the same thing without realizing
- Finding it difficult to take judgmental calls such as analyzing the distances. People experiencing this can find it difficult to drive or park the vehicle
- Finding it difficult to take independent decision, problem solving or carrying out simple activities such as cooking or writing
- Finding it difficult to focus or concentrate that can make you lose track of dates or important days.
Mood swings, anxiousness, irritability and depression are also common symptoms that are experienced by patients as early signs of Alzheimer’s.
As one progresses with the disease, the symptoms become more intense and severe. Problems associated with thinking, remembering and orientation become more severe making it difficult for the patient and his loved ones to cope with the condition. In the later stages of the disease many people also begin to have hallucinations, imagining things and occurrences that are not real and only imaginary.
Alzheimer’s could also have one behaving strangely including aggressiveness and constant irritability. These changes make the condition highly challenging to deal with. Eventually, people suffering from Alzheimer’s tend to forget things and people around them and are susceptible to accidents due to sudden falls that can happen as they lose their sense of body balance. Most of these symptoms make the patient dependent on others even to perform everyday chores.
Who is at a risk of getting affected by the Alzheimer’s disease?
Age is an important factor resulting in the Alzheimer’s disease and mostly it’s a disease of the old and aged. However, cases of younger people developing this disease are not unheard off. Getting the disease early is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease which is a kind of young onset dementia. Developing the disease is a mix of a number of factors that can add on to the risk of developing the disease. Some of these factors are controllable but most of them are not. Here are the most common risk factors that are associated with the disease:
- Age: One of the most common factors that results in Alzheimer’s disease is the age factor. People above 65 years of age are most susceptible to getting affected by this disease and the risk increases as one grows older. According to a research, the risk of acquiring the disease doubles up in every five years of aging.
- Gender: There are more instances of women seen with the Alzheimer’s disease in comparison with men. Although there are significant proofs in this regard however, there is found some sort of a connection between menopause and the lack of estrogen hormone that may cause Alzheimer’s disease in women.
- Heredity and Genes: In a number of cases there is a clear lineage seen of the disease across various generations. However there are a number of studies being made by scientists in clearly establishing what genes could be responsible for Alzheimer’s in patients. Where Alzheimer’s is a clear genetic disorder, the disease could show up in patients well before the age of 65 falling under the younger bracket.
- Lifestyle & overall wellbeing: A number of medical conditions such as strokes, diabetes, obesity, hypertension etc. are associated risks with Alzheimer’s disease. Leading a healthy lifestyle with exercise, healthy eating and socializing helps a big way in reducing the risks of acquiring this disease.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease:
If you have a history of Alzheimer’s disease running in your family or are experiencing any of the symptoms as discussed above, you should have an open discussion with your doctor. Early diagnosis goes a long way in managing diseases of these types that could impact quality of life in general. Depending upon your discussion with your GP, he may recommend you to see a specialist to confirm diagnosis who could be a psychiatrist particularly dealing with older people or a neurologist.
The primary basis of the diagnosis depends on the assessment of the symptoms, when they started and how they progressed. The biggest issue with Alzheimer’s is that one tends to forget the symptoms also due the basic nature of the disease. It helps if people caring for the patient accompany them to these doctor visits as they would be more aware of the changes and symptoms than the patient. Tests such as brain scans and MRI are also particularly helpful in diagnosing the disease. The brain scans could show images of a shrunken hippocampus or surrounding area that can help in confirming the diagnosis.
Can Alzheimer’ Disease Be Treated?
Unfortunately Alzheimer’s disease does not have a definitive cure, however a lot can be done to manage the disease to facilitate better living. There are a number of drugs that can be prescribed to the patient to help in coping with the symptoms or even slow down the progression of the disease.
Drugs such as donepezil (eg Aricept), rivastigmine (eg Exelon) or galantamine (eg Reminyl) can help in reducing symptoms like memory problems, concentration etc.
To help persons suffering from Alzheimer’s keep up with a routine, it is helpful to keep a list of activities written down so that they can refer to the same when loss of memory occurs. The most depressing part about Alzheimer’s is how the disease can make a patient dependent on others that is not only demoralizing but also very depressing for the patients. To cope with symptoms of depressing, talking either to a doctor or family members can really help the patients.
Alzheimer’s although is a physical disease, can really take a toll on the patient and the ones caring for him mentally and emotionally. Although the disease cannot be treated, timely medical intervention can help prevent the symptoms from worsening and help the patients lead a normal life as far as possible.
Matt Bailey is a noted writer, content marketer and Social Strategist at FindaTopDoc. Find a best Local Doctor by Specialty and Insurance.