Alzheimer’s disease is a common disease affecting the brain leading to loss of memory and impairment of reasoning and logical ability. This disease is one of the major causes of dementia (loss of social/intellectual skills). Alzheimer’s disease is a type of progressive disorder that does not occur overnight. Slowly the connections of brain cells are degenerated causing death of cells which leads to reduced mental function and memory loss. It occurs mostly in elderly people of age group 75-85 years.
Alzheimer’s disease does not strike anyone overnight and it occurs as slow process. You can make note of the following 10 warning signals that leads to progressive disease.
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty in speaking/writing
- Confusion of thoughts
- Trouble in performing familiar tasks
- Difficulty in reasoning out time and place
- Impairment of judgment skills
- Difficulty in concentrating and remembering things
- Mood swings/changes in sleeping pattern
- Changes in behavior and personality
- Withdrawal from society/ depression
Initially there may be only few symptoms like confusion of thoughts and increased forgetfulness but as the disease progresses there will be more and more loss of memory. The intensity of memory loss may not be the same for all people. Due to loss of memory you may not be able to remember even simple tasks like where you have put your keys, forget your appointments, misplace many things, and forget the names of close friends and even family members.
Disorientation is very common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. They may not able to tell what day it is or even what season it is. It becomes very difficult for them to understand about their current life and they often get lost even with familiar places. Trouble in choosing the right word while speaking/writing and difficulty in conversation is common in people with this disease.
Due to reduced reasoning skills and thinking ability it can be difficult for them to manage their financial needs and pay regular bills on time. Most of them affected with this disease will have increased difficulty in dealing with numbers. It becomes really challenging for them to do regular tasks like driving or making food. Sometimes they may have trouble in performing certain basic tasks like bathing or dressing as the disease progresses. As there is more of death of brain cells it can cause personality changes, mood swings and disturbed sleeping pattern.
Who are at risk?
Increasing age is the main risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. People who are above 65 years have 10% chances and people who are above 80 years have about 50% chances for getting this disease. Individuals with Down’s syndrome are more prone to develop this disease than others. Genetics play an important role in this regard. You are prone to develop Alzheimer’s disease if any of your parent or close relative already has this disease. Gene mutation in specific e genes will make one prone to develop this disorder. Often, this disease runs in families.
Women are more prone to develop this disease than men for reasons unknown. A person identified with mild cognitive impairment has increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. An individual who have undergone severe head injury or accident is likely to get this disease. As the disease advances it would kill more and more of brain cells causing shrinkage of brain. When the brain tissues are examined under microscope it was found that a person having this disease can have more of plaque like deposits or protein (beta amyloid) molecules in his/her brain cells. This was believed to cause loss of memory due to reduced cell communication.
Another interesting fact is that a person having Alzheimer’s was found to have tau protein or abnormal tangles in his brain cells which are responsible for poor communication of the brain cells. High blood pressure, increased diabetics, lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, but it is believed to be caused due to hereditary and genetic factors. Increasing age is one of the major causes for developing this disease. In people with rare gene mutation it is possible for them to show some of the symptoms above in early ages of 40-50.
Severe memory loss and lack of communication can cause many complications in elderly people. A person affected with this disease may not be able to tell others if he/she is sick or having pain in particular part of his body. He may not even remember to take medications properly and follow-up the treatment plan as instructed by his doctor. Poor communication of the brain cells may lead to various health problems eventually.
Since no laboratory tests are available for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, the doctor will have to rely on the symptoms given above. He may suggest for neurological examination like reflexes and check your muscle tone and your judgment skills and reasoning ability. He may also conduct some types of mental tests for assessing your memory and other skills. Any deviation in the report will indicate that some changes are happening in the brain cells which may cause dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases imaging tests like CT/MRI scan is done for detecting any brain damage. Nowadays PET scan is done to find out if there is any plaque deposit in the brain.
A person suffering from Alzheimer’s can have various complicated psychotic problems like depression, anxiety, and hallucination. Most of the people can benefit from cognitive therapy and relaxation techniques used in psychotherapy. Medications are given only for severe cases of psychological problems for controlling the symptoms. Mood stabilizers, antipsychotic drugs, anxiolytics and beta blockers are given after complete analysis of the patient. Cholinesterase inhibitors are largely recommended for treating cognitive symptoms. Many cases are found to achieve good improvement in their symptoms after starting this drug. Doctors prescribe donepezil or Razadyne or Exelon depending on the intensity of the symptoms.
Another medication given for treating Alzheimer’s disease is Memantine which improves the brain cell communication. It is very much necessary to provide supportive and caring environment for the person affected with this disease. When any of your loved ones or friend is diagnosed with this disease you can take some steps to prevent any accidental injury at his house or workplace. It is suggested to remove unwanted furniture and install firm handrails to prevent fall. The affected person should wear comfortable shoes/slippers and always carry some identity card while going out.
Lifestyle Changes :
Doing regular exercise is very helpful in keeping the person healthy. It is good to go for daily walking to improve blood circulation and for getting quality sleep. The person can get help from caretaker or join a support group when he is going for a walk. Sometimes the affected person may not remember to eat or become bored to cook and eat. Ensure that he/she takes nutritious food daily and drinking enough water.
It is beneficial to take high calorie milkshakes or protein powders available in most of the grocery stores. Medical foods are available in various brands and being marketed in leading outlets for the help of people with Alzheimer’s disease. It is suggested that using omega 3 fatty acid products and vitamin E supplement is helpful for brain activity. Being active and socially connected is vital for people with this disease since it promotes intellectual stimulation.
There is no way you can prevent Alzheimer’s disease once you grow old. Stay active and do regular exercises and take care of your health so that you can reduce the risk of developing this disease.