Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was first described in 1906. Since then, scientists have made notable progress in understanding how Alzheimer’s affects the brain and learning how to make life better for affected people and their families. Alzheimer’s is not curable, but some treatments can slow the progression of the disease. Alzheimer’s is among common mental disorders. Learn more about the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and its treatments in this article.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic condition that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of Dementia. Various brain conditions and diseases can lead to Dementia, a term that refers to conditions that negatively impact memory, thinking, and behaviour. These changes complicate daily life.
Alzheimer’s is categorized into seven stages. In each of these stages, patients will need increasing support from a caregiver.
- This stage does not present any symptoms but based on family history, an early diagnosis could still be possible.
- First, symptoms appear, including forgetfulness.
- Some mental and physical impairments may be observed, such as reduced memory and concentration, which may only be noticed by those closest to the patient.
- It is common to diagnose Alzheimer’s at this stage, although it is still considered mild. Memory loss and the inability to perform everyday tasks are evident.
- Symptoms that are moderate to severe require help from family or caregivers.
- This stage of Alzheimer’s may require assistance with daily tasks, such as eating and dressing.
- Alzheimer’s disease in this stage may result in speech and facial expression loss.
What Changes Occur in the Brain with Alzheimer’s Disease?
In healthy ageing, the brain shrinks to some degree but does not lose neurons in large numbers. In Alzheimer’s disease, however, neurons are extensively damaged, as many cease to function, lose connections with other neurons, and die. With Alzheimer’s disease, connectivity between neurons can break down as the disease progresses, and many brain areas begin to shrink. In the final stages of the disease, this process called brain atrophy is widespread, resulting in significant loss of brain volume.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
If you think, what is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? You should know Alzheimer’s is not the same as Dementia; it is a type of Dementia. Though the two are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. The difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s is that Dementia is a general term used for disorders that are characterized by symptoms of memory loss, such as confusion and forgetfulness. Specific diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and others may also cause these symptoms. Treatments, symptoms, and causes of these diseases can vary.
Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of Dementia, a term used to describe conditions where the brain no longer functions properly. Alzheimer’s disease has alarming statistics:
- More than 747,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia.
- More than 44 million people worldwide live with Dementia, making it a global health crisis.
- Younger people can develop Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less common.
- Beyond the age of 65, the number of people with the disease doubles every five years.
- After age 60, symptoms of this disease appear, and the risk increases with age.
What Are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
While everyone experiences occasional bouts of forgetfulness, those with Alzheimer’s disease display a set of behaviours and symptoms over time that worsen. Memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease is a warning sign of the condition. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of ageing. Besides memory problems, Alzheimer’s patients may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Getting lost in familiar places or repeating questions are signs of memory loss that impairs daily life
- Money problems and difficulty paying bills
- Finding it difficult to complete familiar tasks at home, work or leisure
- Weak or impaired judgment
- Having difficulty retracing your steps to find misplaced items
- Mood, personality, or behavioural changes
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
What Are the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Early AD may show mild and subtle symptoms, so subtle that their friends and family may not notice a change in their thinking or behaviour. During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you will likely have trouble recalling new information. Because it begins to affect the brain areas that enable learning, the disease tends to have a detrimental effect on new information. Frequently repeating questions, forgetting essential conversations or appointments, or misplacing objects may happen.
The occasional onset of forgetfulness isn’t necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. However, you should speak with your doctor if your memory problems continue. The early identification of AD symptoms and intervention help prolong and boost the quality of life. Warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Misplacing objects and having trouble retracing steps
- Inability to manage finances, drive to a location, etc.
- Having difficulty planning or solving problems
- Daily tasks take longer to complete
- Having trouble keeping track of time
- Distance perception and colour recognition are problematic
- Finding it difficult to follow a conversation
- Making bad decisions due to poor judgment
- Social withdrawal
- An increase in anxiety and changes in mood and personality
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease
You can only diagnose Alzheimer’s disease definitively by examining brain tissue after death. However, your doctor can perform other tests and examinations to determine your mental abilities, diagnose Dementia, and rule out other conditions. First, they’ll likely ask about your:
- Medical history
- Family medical history
- Diet, alcohol intake and lifestyle
- Current or past medications and conditions
Afterward, your doctor will likely perform several tests to determine whether you have Alzheimer’s disease.
Although no definitive test exists for Alzheimer’s disease, your doctor might order several tests to confirm your diagnosis; these could be mental, physical, neurological, and imaging tests.
Your doctor may begin with a mental status test. To assist them in determining your short-term memory, long-term memory, and orientation to place and time. They may ask you about time or to remember and recall a list of words.
Next, your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination. For instance, they might check your blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature, and in some situations, collect urine or blood samples for laboratory testing.
Additionally, your doctor may order brain imaging tests that will produce images of your brain. These tests may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs detect markers, including inflammation, bleeding, and structural problems.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan. CT scans produce X-ray images that you can use to detect abnormalities in your brain.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan can help your doctor find plaque buildup. Plaque is a protein substance associated with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
The doctor can also order blood tests to check for genes that indicate a high risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is the Last Research on Alzheimer’s Disease?
As you become more informed about Alzheimer’s medications, you will discuss them with your physician and make more informed decisions about your treatment plan. Although current medications cannot cure Alzheimer’s disease, some drugs may help lessen symptoms, including memory loss and confusion.
FDA-Approved Drugs for Alzheimer’s
Several medications approved by the FDA might temporarily alleviate Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Before getting any medical treatment, it is necessary to speak with your health care provider to determine if appropriate. A physician experienced using these medications should monitor patients who take them and ensure the recommendations are strictly followed.
Drugs That May Change or Delay the Progression of the Disease
Alzheimer’s disease patients may benefit from drugs in this category by delaying clinical decline and improving cognition and function. Although there are currently no approved drugs in this category, several are under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and tested in clinical trials. Several drugs target the underlying biology of the disease, slowing or stopping its progression.
Drugs That Treat Symptoms
Before beginning a new medication, be sure your physician, pharmacist, and care team are aware of all other medications, alternative treatments, products, and dietary supplements currently being used (including over-the-counter and alternative preparations). This step is necessary to avoid side effects caused by medications interfering with one another. Talk to your doctor about all medications you’re taking to understand their purpose and how to take them.
Cognitive (Memory and Thinking) Symptoms
Although these medications will not cure Alzheimer’s disease, they can help lessen the symptoms for a limited time by affecting specific chemicals involved in transmitting messages to and from the brain’s nerve cells.
Non-Cognitive (Behavioural and Psychological) Symptoms
Alzheimer’s affects more than just memory and thinking. Dementia may cause behavioural and psychological symptoms that can affect a person’s quality of life. Dementia patients may experience sleep changes such as difficulty sleeping, taking daytime naps, and other changes in sleep patterns. Some drugs can help Insomnia in people living with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Other Alzheimer’s Treatments
Along with medication, healthy lifestyle changes may help manage your condition. Your doctor might suggest strategies to aid you; including:
- Concentrate on your tasks.
- Keep confusion to a minimum.
- Try to avoid confrontation.
- Rest well every day.
- Stay calm.
In addition to treating the disease, doctors can implement conventional and alternative treatment options to manage the symptoms. If you are interested in alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, you can learn about the 5 best turmeric recipes to combat Alzheimer’s.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s
While Alzheimer’s has no known cure, there are no foolproof preventative measures. However, researchers are focusing on healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Researchers do not know how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, you can take steps to lower your risk of developing the disease. The combination of staying physically, mentally, and socially fit can lower your risk for cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s. All of these are excellent ways to stay healthy in general. Talk with your doctor about any new lifestyle changes you intend to make.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Quit smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Try cognitive training exercises.
- Try exercise that can help wake up the body and brain.
- Eat a plant-based diet.
- Keep up the mental exercise.
- Consume more antioxidants.
- Maintain an active social life.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Use apps and brain games for Alzheimer’s prevention.
Also, we mention in the best card games for seniors article that:
But reality’s something else. Playing games keeps you in a healthy state, physically and mentally. Since playing top games for seniors greatly affects one’s memory and cognitive abilities, it reduces the risk of developing illnesses like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Besides, group card games give you a great chance to improve your social life and help seniors feel useful and happy.
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes and Risk Factors
There is no single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but experts have identified certain risk factors, including:
- Family History: You are more likely to develop the disease if someone in your family has developed it.
- Age: Alzheimer’s disease most often appears in people 65 years of age and older. Even though younger-onset Alzheimer’s is much less common than the later form of the disease, it affects five percent of people with Alzheimer’s. Often these people are misdiagnosed.
- Genetics: Researchers have linked specific genes to Alzheimer’s disease. Although there is no definitive cause of Alzheimer’s, genetics may play a role. One particular gene is of interest to researchers. Apolipoprotein E (APOE) has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms in seniors. A blood test can verify whether or not someone has this gene, increasing their risk for developing Alzheimer’s. However, even if someone has this gene, they may not develop Alzheimer’s. It’s also possible for someone who doesn’t have the gene to develop Alzheimer’s. There’s no way to predict whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s.
- Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): MCI, which results in changes in the way the brain works, does not have the same severe symptoms as Alzheimer’s or other progressive dementias. The risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia increases with MCI, particularly MCI with memory problems. MCI, however, doesn’t always progress. It can reverse or remain stable at times.
- Cardiovascular Disease: The health of your heart and blood vessels plays a critical role in maintaining brain health. The brain is supplied with oxygen and nutrients from the blood, and the heart pumps blood to it. Thus, cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure in midlife can also be associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- Education and Alzheimer’s: There is no apparent reason why fewer years of formal education are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but some scientists think the brain uses different channels of neurons when developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
- Traumatic Brain Injury: Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia diseases are more likely to occur in people with moderate or severe brain injury, such as a blow to the head or a skull injury that causes amnesia or loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes.
Protecting seniors from abuse is crucial since they are regarded as one of society’s most valuable assets. It can be a rewarding experience to provide care for a family member with Alzheimer’s. It’s a full-time job, and it’s typically not easy, but it can be enriching. Caregiving requires many skills, especially patience, creativity, stamina, and the ability to see the joy in helping someone you care about to live the best life they can. Caregivers need to look after themselves as well as the individuals they care for. The responsibilities of the role can increase the risk of depression, poor nutrition, and inactivity.
By maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise, you may prevent AD. it is still unclear exactly how Alzheimer’s develops. What is known is that the disease grows over time, and treatment can help delay symptoms and improve the quality of life. It’s essential to seek medical advice if you or a loved one experiences symptoms of AD. Your doctor will determine whether the symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe.
Use this article only as educational material. You must consult your doctor and/or specialist prior to using it. Read more about this disclaimer.