Alzheimer’s Disease

At a progressive stage, dementia turns into Alzheimer’s disease.  Dementia is a much wider term for conditions that occur due to brain diseases or injuries. These conditions badly affect the memory, behavior and cognitive functions of the brain and thus interfere with the normal way of living. 

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?

No, there is no cure for this disease, but there are some treatments that are able to slow down the pace of the disease.

Some facts about Alzheimer’s

  • It is a chronic progressive condition.
  • It appears gradually and causes a slow and degenerative decline of some parts of the brain.
  • There may be no cure for Alzheimer’s but with proper care and treatment, one can slow down the progression of the disease and better the quality of life.
  • There are no set age criteria for Alzheimer’s disease but some people have a higher probability of risk. This involves people who are above 65 years old or have someone in the family who also had Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s and dementia are relatable but are not exactly the same. Not all kinds of dementia are incurable. Alzheimer’s is just another type of dementia.
  • No two people are affected the same. While one can live life for a long time with little cognitive damage, others may experience a more fast-paced onset of symptoms and faster progression of the disease.

Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia can be of many types- Alzheimer’s disease, Parkison’s disease, brain injury, etc. It is a wider term for symptoms related to memory loss like confusion and forgetfulness. Dementia can occur due to depression, stroke, vascular disease, HIV,  chronic drug use, etc Some forms of dementia are reversible and can be treated with drugs. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. It is a specific condition of Dementia. Alzheimer’s disease can occur when proteins and fibers build up in the brain and clog nerve cells blocking the nerve signals. Alzheimer’s is completely incurable, but healthy lifestyle choices and proper treatment can slow down the progression of the disease.

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

There is no one single reason behind the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease but with the years of observation and research, medical practitioners have identified some factors that contribute to it –

  • Family history – If someone in your blood relation has Alzheimer’s disease, there are chances that you will have it too.
  • Genetical makeup – There are some genes that are directly or indirectly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Age – Mostly, people above the age of 65 develop Alzheimer’s disease. So, age is an important factor that can be linked to the onset of the disease. However, the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease is also seen.

Note – Even if you are someone that falls under all of these categories, there are chances you won’t develop this disease at all. But, these factors certainly raise the level of risk.

How genetics is linked to Alzheimer’s?

Till now, there is no one cause that can be identified as the cause for Alzheimer’s, but researchers have found a gene, known as Apolipoprotein E, that can be related to the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s in older people.

The presence of this gene can be determined by blood tests. Still, even if a person has this gene, they may not get the disease. Also, vice-versa is true too, a person not having this gene may get Alzheimer’s. There is still no way for doctors to be sure whether someone will develop this disease.

There are some other genes like CD33 that are linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Also, researchers have found that mutations in three genes, namely, APP (on chromosome 21), PSEN1 (on chromosome 14), and PSEN2 (on chromosome 1), are linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s

Symptoms

In our daily routine, we all tend to be forgetful, but people with Alzheimer’s show specific, consistent behaviors and patterns that become worse over time. These include –

  • Memory loss to the extent that it affects daily routine, such as the inability to remember meetings and appointments.
  • Trouble in doing even the most familiar tasks, such as using a washing machine.
  • Difficulty in analytical problem solving
  • The trouble with speaking and writing
  • Difficulty finding places
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Cut off from family, friends, and society.

Different stages of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s grows gradually, which means the symptoms appear slowly and become worse over time. It is commonly divided into seven stages:

Stage 1 No symptomsCan be diagnosed based on family history
Stage 2 The appearance of early symptoms, such as forgetfulness
Stage 3 Light mental and physical impairmentsReduced concentration and memorySymptoms are only noticeable by someone close to the individual
Stage 4 Diagnosis of Alzheimer’sMild symptomsMemory loss and trouble performing everyday tasks
Stage 5 Symptoms can be moderate to severeNeed help and care from loved ones and caretakers
Stage 6 The person needs help in conducting even basic tasks like eating
Stage 7 Symptoms are at worseMost severe stageLoss of speechLoss of facial expressions

Early-onset Alzheimer’s

When Alzheimer’s hit before the age of 65, during the 40s or 50s, it is called early-onset Alzheimer’s or even younger-onset Alzheimer’s. It accounts for 5% of the people suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of early-onset

  • Mild memory loss
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Trouble finishing everyday tasks.
  • Finding it difficult to find the right words
  • Mild eyesight related problems such as difficulty in estimation of distances.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease

The only way medical practitioners and researchers can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease by examining the brain of the person after his death. However, doctors can examine and test an individual through assessing their mental abilities, identify dementia, and determine other conditions. The best way to go about the diagnosis is to take medical history into consideration. Doctors will determine –

  • Symptoms
  • Family history
  • Other health-related issues
  • Lifestyle, diet, alcohol or drug intake

After these basic examinations, the doctor conducts many other physical and mental tests to further solidify the basis if you have Alzheimer’s or not.

Tests for Alzheimer’s disease

There are several tests including mental, neurological, physical, and imaging tests that can help in diagnosing the disease.

Mental Status Test

Doctors can begin with a mental status test that helps the doctor in assessing the short term and long term memory of a person.

Physical Examination

Conducting physical examination can include checking the heart rate, checking blood pressure, and taking your temperature. In some cases, blood and urine samples are also taken to be tested in the laboratory.

Neurological Exam

It is done to rule out the possibility of other diseases, such as infection, acute medical issues, stokes, etc. This examination includes checking your reflexes, speech, and muscle tone. Some neurological tests are –

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – This is done to identify key markers, such as bleeding, inflammation, and structural problems.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT Scan) – X-ray images of the brain are taken by a doctor for identification of any kind of abnormal characteristic in the brain.
  • Positron Emission Tomography Scan (PET Scan) – This helps in detecting the presence of protein (plaque)  that contributes to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Blood tests

Blood tests are conducted to identify the presence of genes that may help in determining the cause behind the disease.

Medicine for Alzheimer’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no medicine for Alzheimer’s that can completely cure the disease. However, there are some treatments that can ease the intense symptoms and slow down the progress of the disease.

Medicine for Early to Moderate Alzheimer’s

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)

These medicines are to be taken only when prescribed by a doctor. These drugs work by regulating acetylcholine at high levels in your brain. It is a kind of neurotransmitter that can improve memory.

Medicine for Moderate to Severe Alzheimer’s

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Memantine (Namenda)

Memantine works on your brain by blocking the effects of excessive amounts of glutamate. GLutamate is a neurochemical that is released in excessive amounts when a person is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It damages the brain cells.

Other treatments and medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti anxiety medicines are also given to patients to ease the symptoms related to Alzheimer’s, including depression, hallucination, agitation, aggression, restlessness, etc.

Strategies to manage Alzheimer’s

Changes in lifestyle of the person suffering from Alzheimer’s can be the best way to manage the disease. In addition to medicines, the caretakers can focus on managing the lifestyle of the person. These include –

  • Getting rest
  • Staying calm
  • Avoiding confrontation
  • Limiting confusion
  • Concentration on tasks

How to prevent Alzheimer’s?

There is no 100% effective way to prevent Alzheimer’s. However, researchers suggest that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you prevent decline in cognitive skills.

  • Do not smoke
  • Lesser intake of alcohol
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a diet filled with antioxidants
  • Do mental exercises
  • Be social

How to take care of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s?

Taking care of a person having Alzheimer’s is no easy task but can certainly give a quality life to the person.

  • You need to be patient, creative, active, and empathetic enough to feel joy in helping the other person.
  • You will also need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of the other person.
  • Keep engaging in physical work to have proper exercise, and keep track of nutrition for better health for yourself and the other person.
  • Take the help of professional caregivers as they can assist you in a much better way.