Alzheimer’s Disease

Neurological

Living with Alzheimer’s disease can be tough. Up to 70% percent of all cases of dementia (progressive memory loss) are attributed to Alzheimer’s – a condition that targets the brain cells and causes them to stop working. The chemicals that help the brain cells communicate break down and things go haywire. Sufferers experience increasing memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, and changes in behavior. The effects of Alzheimer’s affect the sufferer, their loved ones, and others close to them. While there is currently no cure for the disease, treatments can help slow the progression of memory loss and help patients experience a better quality of life.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

Progressive memory loss. It starts with short-term memories, like where you put your car keys or shoes. The ability to recall names or things that just occurred is affected. It then progresses to long-term memories, such as the names of people very close to you, and the ability to know the date, place, and time. The severity of the disease is seen when sufferers forget important activities of daily living and the health begins to decline.

Loss of speech. You may understand what others are saying to you, but not be able torecall the words to use to answer. You may also notice words getting mixed up such as using the word “apple” for “light switch.” In later stages, Alzheimer’s patients stop speaking completely.

Loss of motor skills.Motor skills may become slightly impaired at first and then more significantly in the final stages. Simple tasks like putting a coat on and writing are affected first. As the disease progresses, important functions like swallowing and bladder control are lost.

Loss of the five senses. In the end stages, you may not understand sensations from any of the senses. You may not understand what you hear or interpret pain signals. You may not be able to process what you see, taste, or smell. One dangerous effect is not being able to remember the smell of smoke when something is on fire.

Altered behavior and moods. You may seem happy and smiling one day and then angry and hostile the next.

Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and these include:

Genetics. If you have a close relative, parent, or sibling suffering from Alzheimer’s you may also suffer from the disease.

Advanced age. The risk for Alzheimer’s increases after the age of 65. There have been cases in people under 65.

Women. The disease is more common in women, but men get it too.

Major head injuries. People who suffer head trauma are at higher risk.

Chromosome disorders. People who have chromosome disorders, such as Down syndrome, seem to acquire Alzheimer’s in the mid-life stages between 30 and 40 years of age.

Diagnosis

The doctor will take a thorough family and medical history. It is important to understand that not all cases of memory loss are due to Alzheimer’s or dementia. There can be other causes, so a good medical examination along with lab tests needs to be done. If tests for a physical cause are ruled out, the doctor will progress to the following testing:

Mental status examination. Testing for cognitive functions and thought processes.

Imaging. Looking for “lesions” or plaques on the brain tissue.

Further neurological testing. This can show what parts of the brain are intact and working properly or are failing.

Diagnosis is usually made by grouping together all the findings to make the correct diagnosis. No single test can diagnose the disease at this time.

Treatments

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it is manageable with drugs to help slow its progression. Research is ongoing for better treatments and improving sufferer’s lives.

Since the main issue with Alzheimer’s is how the chemical messengers work between brain cells, some medications can increase their function. This does not stop damage to brain cells, but it does help them work better. Commonly prescribed drugs include cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil (Aricept) and memantine (Namenda). Doctors may need to add sedatives like diazepam (valium) or lorazepam (Ativan) for behavioral changes. Depression and anxiety may be treated with antidepressants or antianxiety medications. Currently, researchers are looking at new drugs that prevent plaques from forming in the first place and reducing inflammation in brain tissue.

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

While it is not completely known how effective alternative therapies are, many people have found the following to be helpful:

  • Coconut oil
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Co-Q 10
  • Gingko biloba

Always consult your doctor before using any herbal or alternative treatments. Herbs can have interactions with other medications and side effects.

References

Centers for Disease Control. (2020, June). Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm

Li, X.-L. (2014, July 15). Behavioral and psychological symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease. Biomed Research International. Retrieved from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4123596/

Mayo Clinic.(2018, December 8). Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447

Mucke, L. (2009, October 15). Alzheimer’s disease. Nature. Retrieved from:https://doi.org/10.1038/461895a

National Institute on Aging. (2017, May 16). What happens to the brain in Alzheimer’s disease? Retrieved from:https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-happens-brain-alzheimers-disease

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