Alzheimer’s Disease

Updated: 22 Feb 2024, 11:15 am IST
Medically Reviewed by

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition that worsens with time and cannot be reversed. It mostly impacts cognitive abilities such as thinking, memory, and behaviour. It is the most typical cause of dementia, a word used to describe a mental decline severe enough to cause problems in day-to-day functioning. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for a significant proportion of dementia cases.

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, it is characterised by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain. These deposits form plaques and tangles in your brain and disrupt the proper functioning of your brain cells. As the disease progresses, more areas of the brain become affected, causing more damage as time goes by.

All about Alzheimer’s Disease. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common causes of dementia, is a progressive and irreversible neurodegenerative disorder primarily affecting the elderly. Most people affected by the disease are over the age of 60. It generally affects your cognitive function, including memory, thinking, and behaviour. Risk factors of the disease include age and genetics, and there is no cure for it yet.

Forgetting recent events or conversations are the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and it may progress into serious memory problems like loss of ability to perform everyday tasks or serious memory problems. Treatments like inhibitors, cholinesterase may help manage the symptoms temporarily but this disorder may get worse with time.

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not determined yet but it is believed to be a result of genetic, enviornmental, and lifestyle factors. Some factors that contribute to the development of the disease include:

  • Family history
  • Age (over 60)
  • Genetics
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Hormonal changes
  • Poor heart health
  • Exposure to environmental toxins or pollutants

Key Facts of Alzheimer’s Disease

Major Symptoms
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive decline
  • Communication problems
  • Impaired judgment
  • Mood swings
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty with daily tasks
Necessary Health Tests
  • Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE)
  • Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA)
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography)
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Analysis
  • Genetic Testing
  • Medication
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Physical exercise
  • Behavioral and environmental interventions
  • Healthy diet
  • Support for caregivers

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Memory loss: Initially, individuals may experience difficulty remembering recent events or information.
  • Cognitive decline: Patients may have difficulty solving problems, planning, and decision-making. They may not be able to understand complex concepts.
  • Problem with communicating: People with Alzhiemer’s may have difficulty finding the right words in conversation or repeating statements.
  • Impaired judgment: People with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty making sound judgments or decisions. They may face problems assessing risks and managing daily tasks.
  • Mood and personality changes: Changes in behaviour, mood swings, and withdrawal from social activities can occur. You may experience increased anxiety or depression as well.
  • Difficulty with daily tasks: People affected with the disease struggle with routine activities like bathing and eating.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease typically involves a comprehensive assessment that includes medical history, physical and neurological exams, cognitive testing, and sometimes additional diagnostic tests.

1. Clinical evaluation

Your doctor will conduct a thorough examination, recording your medical history, symptoms, and family history of dementia.

2. Cognitive testing

Various cognitive tests assess memory, language skills, problem-solving abilities, and other cognitive functions. Examples include the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA).

3. Blood tests

Blood tests may be conducted to rule out other potential causes of cognitive impairment, such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid dysfunction, or metabolic disorders.

4. Brain imaging tests

Your doctor may conduct the following test:

  • Structural imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can help identify brain atrophy and rule out other conditions.
  • Functional imaging, like positron emission tomography (PET), may be used to detect abnormal protein deposits (beta-amyloid) in the brain.

Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the treatment aims at managing the symptoms and slowing its progression.

1. Medication

Cholinesterase Inhibitors: Drugs like donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine may temporarily improve symptoms by increasing levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.
Memantine: This medication regulates glutamate activity in the brain and is used to manage moderate to severe Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Antidepressants: Your doctor may also recommend anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants to help treat symptoms related to Alzheimer’s.

2. Cognitive stimulation

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities may help maintain cognitive function and slow cognitive decline. This can include puzzles, games, and social interactions.

3. Physical exercise

Regular physical activity has been associated with cognitive benefits and may help improve mood and overall well-being.

4. Behavioral and environmental interventions

Creating a supportive environment to help individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
Establishing routines and providing clear cues for daily activities to reduce confusion.

5. Healthy diet

A healthy diet, rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, may have potential cognitive benefits. However, more research is needed to establish specific dietary recommendations.

6. Support for caregivers

Family and friends play a crucial role, and support services, including education, counseling, and respite care, can help manage the challenges these patients face.

Alzheimer’s Disease Related FAQs

When does Alzheimer's start?

Alzheimer's disease tends to begin slowly and progressively worsen over several years. It usually affects elderly people over the age of 65. Most parts of your brain eventually become affected by Alzheimer's disease.

Is Alzheimer's a genetic disease?

There is typically more than one hereditary cause for Alzheimer's disease. It can be impacted by a variety of genes in addition to environmental and lifestyle factors.

Are there any foods that can help with Alzheimer's disease?

While there is no magical food that can cure Alzheimer's disease, a few can improve cognitive health. Blueberries, leafy greens, and curcumin are some of these foods.

What is the difference between Alzheimer's disease and dementia?

A person with dementia experiences a loss of thinking and reasoning abilities that affects their day-to-day activities and way of life. Alzheimer's, on the other hand, is a type of dementia that affects people over the age of 60.

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