Today is World Alzheimer’s Disease Day; however, the condition may sound strange to many, as it is not a common health condition in this clime. This article will endeavour to give you needed information on the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. A neurodegenerative type of dementia, the disease starts mild and gets progressively
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Like all types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is caused by brain cell death. It is a neurodegenerative disease, which means there is progressive brain cell death that happens over a course of time. The total brain size shrinks with Alzheimer’s – the tissue has progressively fewer nerve cells and connections. While they cannot be seen or tested in the living brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease, postmortem/autopsy will always show tiny inclusions in the nerve tissue, called plaques and tangles:
- Plaques are found between the dying cells in the brain – from the build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid (you may hear the term “amyloid plaques”).
- The tangles are within the brain neurons – from a disintegration of another protein, called tau.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
- Inability to take in and remember information, e.g:
* Repetitive questions or conversations
* Forgetting events or appointments
* Getting lost on a familiar route.”
- Impairments to reasoning and complex tasking:
* Poor understanding of safety risks
* Inability to manage finances
* Poor decision-making ability
- Impaired visual, speaking abilities:
* Inability to recognize faces or common objects or to find objects in direct view
* Inability to operate simple implements, or orient clothing to the body.
* Difficulty thinking of common words while speaking, hesitations
* Speech, spelling, and writing errors.
- Changes in personality and behavior, for example:
* Out-of-character mood changes, including agitation; less interest, motivation or initiative; apathy; social withdrawal
* Loss of empathy
* Compulsive, obsessive or socially unacceptable behavior.
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease
The progression of Alzheimer’s can be broken down into three basic stages:
- Preclinical (no signs or symptoms yet)
- Mild cognitive impairment
The Alzheimer’s Association has broken this down further, describing seven stages along a continuum of cognitive decline based on symptom severity – from a state of no impairment, through mild and moderate decline, and eventually reaching “very severe decline.”
Risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease
Some things are more commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease – not seen so often in people without the disorder. These factors may therefore have some direct connection. Some are preventable or modifiable factors (for example, reducing the risk of diabetes or heart disease may in turn cut the risk of dementia). Risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Unavoidable risk factors
- Age – the disorder is more likely in older people, and a greater proportion of over-85-year-olds have it than of over-65s.
- Family history (inheritance of genes) – having Alzheimer’s in the family is associated with higher risk. This is the second biggest risk factor after age.
- Having a certain gene (the apolipoprotein E or APOE gene) puts a person, depending on their specific genetics; at three to eight times more risk than a person without the gene. Numerous other genes have been found to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Being female (more women than men are affected).
- Potentially avoidable or modifiable factors
- Factors that increase blood vessel (vascular) risk – including diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. (These also increase the risk of stroke, which itself can lead to another type of dementia.)
- Low educational and occupational attainment.
- Prior head injury. (While a traumatic brain injury does not necessarily lead to Alzheimer’s, some research links have been drawn, with increasing risk tied to the severity of trauma history.)8
- Sleep disorders (the breathing problem sleep apnea, for example).
- Estrogen hormone replacement therapy.
Treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease – the death of brain cells in the dementia cannot be halted or reversed. There is, however, much backing for therapeutic interventions to help people live with Alzheimer’s disease more ably. The Alzheimer’s Association includes the following as important elements of dementia care:
- Effective management of any conditions occurring alongside the Alzheimer’s.
- Activities and/or programs of adult day care.
- Support groups and services.