What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a growing form of dementia. Dementia is a broader term for conditions caused by brain injuries or diseases that impares memory, thinking, and other mental functions. These changes interfere with daily living.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Most people with the disease diagnosed after the age of 65. If it’s diagnosed before then, it’s generally referred as early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s no permanent cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatments that can slow down the progression of the disease. Learn more about the basics of Alzheimer’s disease.
Although many people know about Alzheimer’s disease, some aren’t sure exactly what it is. Here are some facts about this condition:
- Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic ongoing condition.
- Its symptoms arrives gradually and the effects on the brain are degenerative, meaning they lead to slow decline.
- There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s but treatment can help to slow down the progression of the disease and may inhance the quality of life.
- Anyone can suffer from Alzheimer’s disease but certain people are at higher risk for it. This includes people over 65 years of age and those with a family history of this disease.
- Alzheimer’s and dementia are not same. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia.
- There’s no single expected outcome for people with Alzheimer’s. Some people live longer longer with mild cognitive damage, while others experience a faster onset of symptoms and disease progression.
Each person have different journey with Alzheimer’s disease. Find out more details about how Alzheimer’s can affect people.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are sometimes used interchangeably. But these two conditions aren’t the same. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.
Dementia is a wider term for conditions with symptoms associated with memory loss such as forgetfulness and confusion. Dementia includes more specific conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and others that can cause these symptoms.
Causes, symptoms, and treatments can be different for all these diseases. Learn more about how dementia and Alzheimer’s disease differ.
Alzheimer’s disease causes and risk factors
Experts have not determined a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease but they have identified certain risk factors, which include:
- Age. Most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are older than 65 years of age.
- Family history. If you have an recent family member who has developed the condition, you’re more prone to get it.
- Genetics. Certain genes have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease but it raises your risk level.
To learn more about your personal risk of developing the disease, consult with your doctor. Learn about amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and other factors that may cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s and genetics
While there’s no one recognizable cause of Alzheimer’s, genetics may play a major role. One gene in particular is of interest to researchers. Apolipoprotein E (APOE) is a gene that’s been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms in older adults.
Blood tests can determine if you have this gene, which increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Is should be noted that even if someone has this gene, they may not get Alzheimer’s.
The opposite is also true: Someone may still get Alzheimer’s even if they don’t have the gene. There’s no way to tell for sure whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s.
Other genes could also increase risk of Alzheimer’s and early start of Alzheimer’s. Learn more about the link between genes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Everyone has episodes of forgetfulness from time to time. But people with Alzheimer’s disease show certain ongoing behaviors and symptoms that aggravate with time. These can include:
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms will slowly worsen over time. Alzheimer’s disease have seven stages:
- Stage 1. There are no symptoms at this stage but it might be earlier diagnosed on the basis of family history.
- Stage 2. The earliest symptoms appear, such as forgetfulness.
- Stage 3. Mild physical and mental damage appear, such as lower memory and concentration. These may only be noticeable by someone very close to the person.
- Stage 4. Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed at this stage, but it’s still considered mild. Memory loss and the inability to perform everyday tasks is evident.
- Stage 5. Moderate to severe symptoms require help from loved ones or families.
- Stage 6. At this stage, a person with Alzheimer’s may need help with basic tasks, such as eating or wearing clothes.
- Stage 7. This is the most severe and final stage of Alzheimer’s. There may be a loss of speech(aphasia) and facial expressions.
Early onset Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s usually affects people of 65 years and older. However, it can occur in people in their 40s or 50s of age. This is called early onset, or younger onset, Alzheimer’s. This type of Alzheimer’s affects about 5 percent of all people with the condition.
Symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s can include mild memory loss and problem while concentrating or finishing everyday tasks. It can be difficult to find the right words, and you may lose track of time. Mild vision problems, such as difficulty telling distances, can also occur.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease
The only conclusive way to diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s disease is to examine their brain tissue after death. But your doctor can use other examinations and tests to evaluate your mental abilities, diagnose dementia, and rule out other conditions.
From there, your doctor will likely perform several tests to determine if you have Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s no decisive test for Alzheimer’s disease. However, your doctor will likely suggest several tests to determine your diagnosis. These can be mental, physical, neurological, and imaging tests.
Your doctor may start with a mental status test. This can help them assess your short-term memory, long-term memory, and orientation to place and time.
Next, they’ll likely conduct a physical exam. For example, they may check your blood pressure, examine your heart rate, and take your temperature. In some cases, they may collect urine or blood samples for testing in a laboratory.
Your doctor may also perform a neurological examination to rule out other possible diagnoses, such as an acute medical issue, such as infection or stroke. During this examination, they will check your reflexes, muscle tone, and speech.
Your doctor may also perform brain-imaging studies. These studies, which will provide pictures of your brain, can include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs can bring key markers, such as inflammation, bleeding, and structural issues.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan. CT scans take X-ray images which can help your doctor look for abnormal characteristics in your brain.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. PET scan images can help your doctor detect plaque deposition. Plaque is a protein substance related to Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Other tests your doctor may prescribe include blood tests to check for genes that may indicate you have a greaer risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Find out more about this test and other ways to test for Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s no known exact treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, your doctor can recommend medications and other treatments to help relieve your symptoms and delay the progression of the disease for as longer duration of time.
For early to moderate Alzheimer’s, your doctor may recommend medications such as donepezil (Aricept) or rivastigmine (Exelon). These drugs can help to maintain high levels of acetylcholine in your brain. This is a type of neurotransmitter that can help boosting your memory.
To treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe donepezil (Aricept) or memantine (Namenda). Memantine can block the effects of excess glutamate. Glutamate is a brain chemical that is released in larger amounts in Alzheimer’s disease and damages brain cells.
Your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants,antianxiety medications, and antipsychotic medications to treat symptoms related to Alzheimer’s. These symptoms are:
Other Alzheimer’s treatments
In addition to medication, lifestyle changes may help you manage your condition. For example, your doctor might plan or give strategies to help you or your loved one:
- focus on tasks
- limit confusion
- avoid confrontation
- get sufficient rest every day
- stay calm
Some people believe that vitamin E can prevent decline in mental abilities, but studies indicate that more research is required. You should talk your doctor before taking vitamin E or any other supplements as it can interfere with some of the medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to lifestyle changes, there are several other options you can ask your doctor about. Read more about alternative Alzheimer’s treatments.
Just as there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, there are no complete preventive measures. However, researchers are focusing on overall healthy lifestyle habits to prevent cognitive decline.
The following estimates may help:
Try cognitive training exercises.
Eat a plant-based diet.
Take more antioxidants.
Maintain an active social life.
Be sure to consult with your doctor before doing any major changes in your lifestyle. Read more about possible ways to prevent Alzheimer’s.
If you have a closed one with Alzheimer’s, you may consider becoming caregiver. This is a full-time job that’s definitely not easy but can be very rewarding.
Being a caregiver requires many skills. These include lots of patience, as well as creativity, stamina, and the ability to feel happiness in the role of helping someone you care about live the most comfortable life they can.
As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself as well as your loved one. These responsibilities of the role can come with more stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise.
If you want to assume the role of caregiver, you may need to take help of professional caregivers as well as family members to help. Learn more about what it takes to be an Alzheimer’s caregiver.
The statistics surrounding Alzheimer’s disease are intimidating.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth most common cause of death among U.S. adults. It ranks fifth among causes of death for people of age 65 years or more.
- In a study it was founded that 4.7 million Americans over the age of 65 years had Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Those researchers projected that by 2050, there will be 13.8 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Alzheimer’s is an expensive disease. According to the CDC, about $259 billion was spent on Alzheimer’s and dementia care costs in the United States in 2017.
Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease in which there are many things left unknowns. What is known is that the condition worsens over time, but treatment can help to delay symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If you think you or your one knowns may have Alzheimer’s, your first step is to talk with your doctor. They can help make a diagnosis, discuss about the symptoms and what you can expect, and help connect you with services and support. If you want, they can also give you information about taking part in clinical trials.