Emotional and Mental Health

Alzheimer's Disease - an Overview

Written by Dr. Vasantha K S and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

 
Image: Alzheimer's Disease - an Overview

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain cells with dementia being the marked symptom in the early stages.

Symptoms:

  1. Memory loss, which worsens slowly.
  2. Difficulty in thinking, logical reasoning, and processing information.
  3. Trouble carrying out daily activities like driving, cooking, and playing.
  4. In more advanced stages, even bathing and dressing independently poses a challenge.

Stages:

1. Mild

  • There is forgetfulness.
  • Asks questions repeatedly.
  • Cannot recall names of people and places.

2. Moderate

  • Forgets information about self.
  • Fails to remember the date, month, and year.
  • Cannot order food by self.

3. Moderately severe

  • Loses track of current place and time.
  • Blank about own address.

4. Severe

  • Fails to recognize loved ones.
  • Confuses one family member for another.
  • Delusions.
  • Hard time going to the bathroom.

In final stages, they are in bed all day and need utmost care.

Who Gets Affected:

Two distinct types have been noticed, namely, early-onset, and late-onset.

  • Early onset is a rare-type seen in people aged 30-40 with a family history of Alzheimer's. But this type is responsible for only 5 % of the total cases.
  • Late-onset is the more common type which is seen in persons aged 65 and above. There is a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors involved.

Risk Factors:

  • Age: Increasing age is a known risk factor. There is a significant increase in risk after the age of 65.
  • Genetics: Genetic mutations have been found in those with a family history of Alzheimer's.
  • Severe and repeated head injuries: People who have had trauma in the past.
  • Social withdrawal: Being aloof and unsocial for various reasons significantly increases one's risk.

Cause:

It is still unclear why a person without a genetic factor would suddenly develop Alzheimer's. But, certain studies are guiding us towards finding the cause. When brain tissues were observed in case of Alzheimer's, two distinct changes were observed.

  1. Deposits of beta-amyloid protein were seen to be present outside the brain cells.
  2. Twisting of tau proteins in the brain cells, causing a breakdown in the nutrient supply system.

Diagnosis:

There is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer's. Doctors use a combination of medical history, physical and neurological examinations (for balance and reflexes), imaging tests (MRI) and questionnaires to assess cognitive functioning.

Treatment:

Going by current treatment modalities, Alzheimer's cannot be cured. There are no disease-modifying agents available as well. But, some drugs help reduce symptoms. This group of drugs is called Cholinesterase inhibitors.

It is important to understand that palliative care and the support of family and friends are the utmost necessity. It is to be ensured that they can maintain their sense of independence and quality of life.

Prevention:

  • Exercise regularly to keep yourself active.
  • Have fresh food consisting of fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay positive and mentally active.
  • Quit alcohol and smoking.

Simply put, this disease is the result of progressive brain cell death. Keeping yourself active, cheerful and engaged in stimulating tasks every day is the key to keeping this disease at bay.

For more information consult a geriatrician online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/geriatrician

 
Last reviewed at: 15.Apr.2019

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