Alzheimer’s disease also known as senile dementia is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills thus impairing a person’s ability to carry out even simple tasks. Brain cells degenerate and eventually die.
CAUSES OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
The main causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not known. There is one study that claims this disease is caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. The proteins believed to be responsible are amyloid and tau.
Amyloid is believed to be able to form plaques around brain cells while tau forms tangles within brain cells.
The protein theory is just a thought. Scientists argue that this disease develops over earlier before symptoms show up.
There are several factors that are believed to be risk factors and thus believed to be the causes of this disease.
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease include;
- Down’s syndrome
- Cardiovascular disease
- Head injuries
- Untreated depression
- Hearing loss
- Social isolation
- Sedentary lifestyle
These factors are not the causes of Alzheimer’s disease directly but they can accelerate or lead to Alzheimer’s disease infection.
Age is one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease or is one of the common risk factors for it.
People at the age of 65 years and above have a very high possibility of suffering from this disease than those who are below 65 years.
It is believed that for every 20 people with Alzheimer’s disease, only 1 person is below 65 years old.
Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be circulating in families. There is a very high likelihood of suffering from this disease if a family member has ever suffered from this disease.
Suffering from Down’s syndrome
People with Down’s syndrome have a very high likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
This is believed to be because the causative agent of Down’s syndrome can also trigger amyloid plaques to build up in the brain over time, thus causing Alzheimer’s disease.
Presence of cardiovascular disease
Having cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke can be a sign of a possible Alzheimer’s disease in the making. This is because the risk factors of cardiovascular disease are believed to be able to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s attack.
Having head injuries
People who have suffered either once or several times from severe head injuries have a higher likelihood of suffering from this disease later in life. Scientists need to do more research to establish the truthfulness of these allegations.
Having untreated depression
Depression affects the brain and it is believed that if it stays for long without getting the required treatment or therapy to get rid of it can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Also having recurrent depression can have a greater effect on the brain later in life.
Having hearing loss
There are several studies that have tried to get the link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
The first study states that a particular part of the brain in charge of hearing and processing auditory information will start operating in a different way when the hearing part gets strained and this changes the structure of the brain. Other theories are available here.
Having less contact with other people has been seen to be able to cause Alzheimer’s disease though more research still needs to be done here.
Having a sedentary lifestyle
Adults who never took part in exercise and flexing muscles have a higher risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease than those who took part in the exercise. This conclusion is in line with the recent publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s.
THE 7 STAGES OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
There are different stages of Alzheimer’s disease development. These stages can differ depending on the person. Some experts group this stage into three but a simple seven-stage model has been developed to represent the stages of progression of this disease.
The 7 stages of Alzheimer’s disease are;
Stage 1: The no impairment stage – no signs of having Alzheimer’s appear.
Stage 2: Very minor changes stage – At this stage, the person starts experiencing minor memory problems.
Stage 3: Minor changes stage – Here now the symptoms of the disease start appearing and even family members start noticing. Tests can also be carried out.
Stage 4: The clear cut symptoms stage – Symptoms of the disease increase and start becoming worse.
Stage 5: The need help stage – A person starts needing help with day to day activities.
Stage 6: The supervision stage – At this stage, the person now needs constant supervision.
Stage 7: Terminal stage – People at this stage are showing severe symptoms of this disease.
Stages 1 – 3 are classified as mild stages or early Alzheimer’s stage.
Stages 4 – 6 are in the Moderate Alzheimer’s disease or middle stage.
Stage 7 is classified as Severe Alzheimer’s disease or late stage.
SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease develop slowly over time as several changes occur in the brain until it becomes severe. Below are the symptoms a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease can show at every stage.
Symptoms at the early Alzheimer’s disease stage (Mild stage)
These are the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and they include;
- Difficulty in finding the right word when communicating
- Disorganized and difficulty in planning
- Difficulty in remembering names of acquaintances
- Easily forgets what they have read
- Difficulty in performing simple tasks
- Easily loses or misplaces valuable objects
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease ( middle-stage)
- May forget their life history
- Problems in managing finances and paying bills
- Very poor short term memory. They can even forget what they ate shortly
- Becomes moody when in challenging situations
- Inability to recall own phone number or address
- Dressing difficulty
- Changing sleeping patterns. People at this stage can sleep during daytime and stay awake at night
- Wandering and getting lost frequently
- Controlling bowel and bladder can become a problem
- Need assistance in daily activities such as bathing.
Severe Alzheimer’s disease (Late-stage)
- Vulnerability to infections such as pneumonia
- Increased difficulty in communicating
- Changes in ability to walk, sit and even swallow.
- 24-hour observance and assistance needed
PREVENTION OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
There are several practices you can undertake in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Though this disease cannot be prevented as there are no studies that claim the possibility of prevention but there are factors that can help delay the appearance of the symptoms.
Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Shed off some weight if overweight
- Engage your body physically and mentally
- Eating a healthy diet
- Quit smoking
- Have regular health checks
- Keep your blood pressure under control
It is very difficult to determine if a person suffers from dementia as there is no single test that can be used to determine that. Physicians use different methods to establish this.
Methods used for diagnosis include;
- Physical exam
- Medical history
- Neurological exam
- Mental status test
- Brain imaging
The Physician can decide to do a physical exam first. This involves observing the symptoms and asking questions about the symptoms witnessed. This will help the Physician to link the possibility of symptoms being from Alzheimer’s disease.
The Physician will also do the following procedures;
- Checking blood pressure. Temperature and pulse
- Collecting blood ad urine samples for lab tests
- Listening to the heart and lungs to establish the presence of any abnormalities
- Assessing the diet, nutrition and any possible alcohol use
Information created in this test can help identify health issues that are associated with this disease.
The Physician will also check the person’s past medications in order to determine if the person has ever suffered from a disease that can facilitate Alzheimer’s infection.
The Physician will check the medications that were prescribed and how the treatment was administered.
The Physician will try to establish problems related to brain disorders.
Some of the tests carried out here are;
- Eye movement tests
- Reflexes test
- Speech test
- Coordination test, muscle tone, and strength test
- Sensation test
These tests will help in establishing;
- Signs of small or strokes
- Existence of Parkinson’s disease
- Brain tumors presence
- If there is fluid accumulation in the brain
- All other illnesses that may impair the normal functioning of the brain
During a neurological study, brain imaging might also be required.
Mental status test
A Physician can carry out this mental status test to establish;
- Memory status of the person
- Thinking skills
- Whether the person is aware of the symptoms.
This test can be carried using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT).
This is usually done to rule out the possibility of other diseases apart from Alzheimer’s disease.
TREATMENT OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
There is no cure for this disease but several procedures can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
Procedures used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease include;
- Behavioral therapy
- Sleep therapy
There are two major types of drugs that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Association(FDA) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The drugs are;
- Cholinesterase inhibitors – They include Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne. They are used to treat symptoms such as memory, thinking, language and judgment. Cholinesterase inhibitors prevent the breakdown of a chemical called acetylcholine which is responsible for the communication of nerves. Cholinesterase inhibitors also reduce or slows down the effects of the symptoms. Exelon and Razadyne are approved for the treatment of mild and moderate stage symptoms while Aricept is used for the treatment of all stages.
- Memantine – This drug regulates the activity of glutamate and improves mental functioning
People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have irregular sleeping patterns.
The following practices can be done to reduce sleep problems;
- Making the bedroom temperature comfortable
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Encouraging daily exercise
- Recommend regular meal times and bed-times
- Get morning sunlight exposure
- Pain treatment
- If taking cholinesterase inhibitors, avoid taking them before bedtime
- Providing lights at night and security objects
- Discourage staying on the bed while awake
- Discouraging TV watching when awake
There is also medicine that can be used to treat sleep changes. The drugs include;
- Sleeping pills like zolpidem and zaleplon
- Trycyclic antidepressants
When a person suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, several behavioral changes occur.
Some of the behavioral changes that occur with Alzheimer’s infection are;
- Anger and aggressiveness
- Emotional distress
- Sleep irregularities
- Firm delusions
- Hallucinations might be witnessed
- Physical and verbal outbursts
All these changes in behavior can be treated using any of the following methods;
- Medical treatment – doctors might prescribe medicine that can help in treating some of the behavior change symptoms.
- Applying non-medical procedures such as avoiding confrontations, creating a calm environment, resting adequately, monitor behavior change causes and remain flexible, patient and flexible.
DISCLAIMER: These treatment procedures are just administered to reduce the symptoms but getting cured of Alzheimer’s disease is not guaranteed.