What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the gradual death of the brain cells, which affects the transmission of signals. This, in turn, impairs memory, judgement, and cognitive abilities of the patient, and they find it difficult to carry out the day-to-day activities for life. Alzheimer’s disease is the major cause of dementia in seniors, accounting to about half of the reported cases.
Causes and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease
The actual and exact cause of this disease is still unknown.
Alzheimer’s disease is of two types:
- Early onset – This condition is less common but the symptoms appear before the age of 60 years. The condition becomes worse quickly.
- Late onset – This more common type of disease starts after the age of 60. The role of genes in the development of the disease is not yet clear.
The risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases:
- With age (but development of this disease is not a normal part of aging)
- If it runs in the family or if one of the close relatives, including brother, sister or one of the parents have this condition
- With the presence of genes associated with Alzheimer’s like APOE epsilon4 allele
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
The symptoms of this disease will be obvious only after several years, even though they must have started early on. The symptoms progress slowly over the years. Some of the common symptoms of this condition include:
- Problems with memory and thinking – People with this condition find it difficult to remember and learn new things. It leads to long-term memory loss, where in the person forgets their personal information, including names of close relatives or their place of birth.
- Disorientation – Patients with Alzheimer’s disease tend to forget even the most regularly used roads and ways and may not be able to remember how they got there. Failing to remember which year and which day it is, is very common with this condition.
- Misplacing things – Patients may put their commonly used things like glasses and keys in strange places like the refrigerator or forget where they have kept it.
- Abstract thinking – Numbers and calculation will be very difficult for patients with Alzheimer’s disease as time passes on.
- Difficulty in performing routine activities – People with this condition may find it hard to carry out the normal activities including eating, grooming and dressing. They may not be able to plan the day’s activities also.
- Changes in behavior – Changes in behavior like being short tempered, irritable and restless is very common in this disease. They may also become confused and fearful of normal things also.
- Impaired judgement – People with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulty in judging the surroundings and behaving accordingly. They may leave the house without a coat or warm clothes on a cold day.
- Difficulty in communication and language – They may find it hard to understand the meaning of the most common words. People with this condition will also find it difficult to recall the right words to express themselves.
- Problems with visual and spatial skills – This disease affects their ability to judge the shapes and sizes or objects and the relationship of the objects in space.
- Lack of motivation – These people may have to be urged and forced to become involved or interact. They tend to remain passive even with people around.
- Impaired sleep – The normal sleep pattern may be affected and patients with this condition tend to sleep in the day and be awake at night.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease
There are no definitive diagnostic tests for this disease. If any of your loved ones have some of the above said symptoms, they should be immediately brought to a doctor for further investigations. In some cases, head injury, depression, and certain chemical imbalances or drugs may produce similar symptoms and hence a detailed investigation by the doctor is important.
A thorough medical, psychiatric and psychological evaluation and assessment is needed to diagnose this condition. This will help the doctor to rule out other possible causes of dementia.
Prognosis of Alzheimer’s disease
The progress of this disease differs from person to person. In some people, the disease may have a short duration, say two to three years, while in some others it may extend up to 20 years. The parts of the brain that are affected first are those that control memory and thinking. But after some time brain cells in other parts of the brain also start dying.
Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
Staying physically and mentally active are the best ways to prevent this condition as one gets old. Maintaining normal blood pressure and preventing head injuries can reduce the risk of this disease. Developing a healthy lifestyle by eating properly, quitting smoking, exercising regularly and limiting the intake of alcohol will help in preventing this condition to a certain extent.
- Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the gradual death of the brain cells.
- There are no definitive diagnostic tests for this disease.