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Everything You Need to Know About Alzheimer's Diseases

Team AckoSept 28, 2022

One of the most common types of dementia, Alzheimer's disease; impairs memory and other cognitive abilities to the point where they interfere with daily living. Reducing  thinking, behavioural, and social skills affect an individual's ability to function independently. While these symptoms sound frightening, knowledge of the disease can help one cope and care for oneself and their loved ones. This blog aims to provide a thorough understanding of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's Disease

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

The term dementia is often used interchangeably with Alzheimer's disease. However, they aren't entirely the same. Dementia is a term used to describe conditions that adversely affect the mind, memory, and behaviour. These changes make it difficult to live a normal life. There are several types of dementia, and Alzheimer's is one of them. 

A progressive neurological disease, Alzheimer's disease causes brain cells to die and the brain to shrink (atrophy). Among the different types of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is the most common one. It affects a person's ability to function independently through a decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills. This is a degenerative disease that worsens over time. Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may not appear until ten years or more after the disease begins.

Types of Alzheimer's Disease

Despite the similar symptoms, there are two main categories of the disease:

Early-Onset Alzheimer's

People younger than 65 are more likely to suffer from this type. Patients are often diagnosed with the disease in their 40s or 50s. Early-onset Alzheimer's is rare; only up to 5% of all Alzheimer's patients develop this. It is more likely to occur inindividuals with Down syndrome.

Late-Onset Alzheimer's

People who are 65 and older are most likely to develop this type of Alzheimer's. Family history may or may not be a factor. As of yet, no specific gene has been identified as causing the disease. Thus, there is no way of knowing why some people get it, and others do not.

What Causes Alzheimer's?

There is no definitive understanding as to what will cause Alzheimer's disease. To put it simply, brain proteins do not function properly, disrupting the work of brain cells (neurons) and triggering reactions. Eventually, neurons become damaged, lose their connections, and die.

In most cases, memory-related brain damage occurs years before the first symptoms appear. Neurons are also lost in a somewhat predictable manner in other parts of the brain. As the disease progresses, the brain shrinks significantly. It is believed that Alzheimer's disease is caused largely by genetic factors, lifestyle factors, and environmental influences.

Risk Factors Associated With Alzheimer's

Age: Alzheimer's disease is most commonly associated with ageing. Although ageing does not mean it will lead to Alzheimer's, the chances of developing it increase with age.

Family history and genetics: Alzheimer's is more likely to affect you if you have a first-blood relative with the disease, such as a parent or sibling. A complex interaction exists between genetic factors; these mechanisms and Alzheimer's disease among family members remain unidentified.

Down syndrome: Alzheimer's disease is common among people with Down syndrome. Most likely, this is because they have three copies of chromosome 21 — and three copies of the gene that produces beta-amyloid. Individuals with Down syndrome tend to develop Alzheimer's symptoms10-20 years earlier than the general population.

Head trauma: Alzheimer's disease is more likely to develop in people who have suffered severe head trauma.

Lifestyle and heart health: Alzheimer's disease is also likely to develop due to heart disease risk factors. These include:

  • Inactivity

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke

  • High cholesterol

  • Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes

Symptoms of Alzheimer's

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include:

Memory

There will always be memory lapses, but Alzheimer's patients experience persistent and worsening memory loss, which affects their ability to work and live independently.

Alzheimer's patients may:

  • Keep repeating statements and questions.

  • Not remember appointments, conversations, or events.

  • Frequently misplace possessions, often placing them in illogical places.

  • Become lost in familiar surroundings.

  • Eventually, forget the names of everyday objects and family members.

  • Having difficulty identifying objects, expressing thoughts, or participating in conversations.

Thinking and Reasoning

Having Alzheimer's disease makes it difficult to concentrate and think, especially about abstract concepts. It is also particularly difficult to multitask. Paying bills on time, managing finances, and balancing chequebooks may also become challenging. Numbers may eventually become incomprehensible to someone with Alzheimer's.

Making Judgments and Decisions

When a person has Alzheimer's disease, their ability to make reasonable decisions and judgments is impaired. Such an individual may dress inappropriately or make poor social choices. People may even have difficulty responding effectively to everyday problems, such as burning food on the stove or sudden unexpected drivers on the road. 

Planning and Performing Familiar Tasks

Taking routine steps to prepare and cook a meal, or playing a favourite game, becomes increasingly difficult as the disease progresses. When Alzheimer's progresses, people often have trouble dressing, bathing, and performing other basic tasks.

Changes in the Personality and Behaviour

A person with Alzheimer's disease may display mood and behavioural changes due to brain changes. There may be a variety of problems, including:

  • Depression

  • Social withdrawal

  • Apathy

  • Distrust in others

  • Wandering

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability and aggressiveness

  • Loss of inhibitions

  • Change in sleeping patterns

  • Delusions

Preserved Skills

Even as symptoms worsen, many important skills are preserved. A person might read or listen to books, reminisce, sing, listen to music, dance, draw, or make crafts as part of their preserved skills. Since these skills are controlled by parts of the brain that are affected later in the illness, they may be maintained for a longer period.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease

Identifying one's symptoms and how they impact everyday life is crucial for diagnosing Alzheimer's. Also, a doctor must assess one's thinking and memory skills before making a diagnosis.

These tests are likely to be part of a diagnostic workup for Alzheimer's:

  • Physical Evaluation: Among the physical examination that is performed on patients, it may include checking the reflexes, coordination, muscle tone, sense of sight, hearing, strength, balance, etc.

  • Labs Tests: A blood test can rule out vitamin deficiencies and thyroid disorders as possible causes of memory loss.

  • Neuropsychological Testing: These tests include a brief assessment of one's mental health, including memory and thinking skills. In addition, these tests are used to track the disease's progression.

  • Brain Imaging: Examining brain images can detect cognitive changes caused by Alzheimer's. Computerised tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are all part of this imaging technology.

  • Genetic Testing: Patients with a family history of Alzheimer's are generally prescribed genetic testing.

Alzheimer's Disease Treatment

Alzheimer's disease has no known cure. However, your doctor can prescribe medications and other treatments to delay the progression of the disease.

Donepezil (Aricept) or rivastigmine (Exelon) are some medications a doctor may prescribe for Alzheimer's patients with early to moderate disease progression. These drugs can enhance the brain's ability to maintain high acetylcholine levels. You can improve the communication between the nerve cells in your brain by doing this. As a result, some Alzheimer's symptoms may be alleviated.

For symptoms related to Alzheimer's, like depression and anxiousness, your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or antipsychotics.

Lifestyle Changes

Aside from medication, lifestyle changes can assist you in managing your condition. As an example, your doctor might suggest the following strategies:

  • Simplify tasks

  • Get enough rest every day

  • Create a calming environment

  • Using relaxation techniques

Preventing Alzheimer's

As of now, the best way to prevent cognitive decline is to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Here are some steps you may find helpful:

  • Make an effort to quit smoking. You can benefit both your short- and long-term health by quitting smoking.

  • Make sure you exercise regularly. Many conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, can be reduced by being active.

  • Keeping your brain active is important. Exercise your cognitive skills.

  • Maintain a healthy diet. Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.

  • Engage in social activities regularly. You will likely benefit from friendships, volunteer work, and hobbies regarding your overall health.

Conclusion

The disease of Alzheimer's is complex, with many uncertainties surrounding it. Scientists are working on finding a cure and learning more about the condition. 

Your doctor should be informed if your family has a history of Alzheimer's disease. By the time Alzheimer's is diagnosed, it is too late to stop its progression. You can, however, delay symptoms and enhance the quality of your life with treatment.

You should consult a doctor if you suspect you or someone you love has Alzheimer's. They can assist in making a diagnosis, explaining what you should expect, and connecting you with the services and resources you might require. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease?

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Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia. A person with dementia loses the ability to think, remember, and reason. Alzheimer's disease most commonly causes dementia among older people.

What are the early signs of Alzheimer's disease?

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In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, memory problems are typically one of the first signs. However, different people may experience these symptoms in different ways.

What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease?

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The course of Alzheimer's disease consists of three stages: preclinical (also known as mild), early (also known as moderate), and late (severe).

Who is prone to Alzheimer's?

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People over the age of 65 are most likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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