Alzheimer’s, the best-known form of dementia, is a neurodegenerative disease that has the effect of destroying nerve cells. It is a typical condition of the elderly, but can also occur at 40-50 years. The exact causes are not known, and the treatment has only the effect of relieving the symptoms, not the cure.
In the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, special care of the person concerned is essential, because a patient with this condition requires special attention. If in the early stages of the disease can be observed memory loss, in its advanced stage, the patient no longer has the ability to care for himself. In the following, we offer a guide on what Alzheimer’s means, what are the symptoms, possible causes, and risk factors, as well as what are the methods of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Alzheimer’s disease – what it is and when it occurs
Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects memory, coherent thinking, and other important cognitive functions. Currently, there is no treatment to cure this condition and no ways to prevent it. The disease is still the subject of study in the medical world and the exact causes that lead to it are not known. Proper and timely diagnosis and the establishment of an appropriate treatment schedule are essential for increasing life expectancy with this disease.
Also, the care of such a patient is very important and demanding, because, in addition to the fact that the person in question becomes dependent on outside help to cope with daily activities, it is necessary to have a better understanding of the disease itself, of a specialized training and special abilities. In such a situation, it is essential to find the necessary support.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease progressively leads to the degeneration of nerve cells that eventually die. It is the best-known form of dementia, a continuous decline in cognitive function, which results in the inability of the affected person to function independently.
Dementia itself is not a specific disease and can be caused by several factors, including degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Hutington’s. Each of these affects different areas of the brain and nerve cells. It should also be noted that not all forms of dementia are related to Alzheimer’s. Among them, we should mention vascular dementia, with Lewy bodies, mixed or frontotemporal.
Dementia is a term used to describe a series of symptoms that affect memory, reasoning, social skills to such an extent that the patient can no longer support himself and needs specialized assistance to provide nutrition. adequate and the necessary support to be able to have a normal life as much as possible.
An Alzheimer’s patient experiences very strong emotions: confusion, frustration, fear, anger, uncertainty, depression, mental pain (especially in the early stages of the disease, when he realizes very well that major changes will take place in his life and that they do not will be able to control). A person who cares for such a patient can help him cope with these overwhelming emotional states, sometimes through the ability to listen to him, the ability to make him understand that life can be lived further, even with this diagnosis. Perhaps the most important thing of all is for the patient to receive the help needed to maintain his dignity and self-respect.
A stable, calm environment can play a key role in managing the behavioral changes that are inevitable in such situations. Unforeseen events, noise, large groups of people, outside pressure to remember information, or asking to solve complicated problems can cause anxiety, and the patient becomes irritable and the ability to think clearly is further reduced. Therefore, caring for a person with Alzheimer’s requires a lot of attention, compassion, patience, and understanding, and therefore it is good to seek the help of specialists to provide loved ones with optimal conditions in the fight against this disease.
When the disease occurs – types of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease usually occurs in the elderly over the age of 65, but there may be cases where the symptoms appear much earlier. WebMd specialists mention, from this point of view, three main types of Alzheimer’s:
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s – is a form of the disease that occurs in people under the age of 65; patients are usually between 40 and 50 years old when they are diagnosed; is a rare type of Alzheimer’s, only 5% of people diagnosed developing this form of the disease; patients with Down Syndrome have a higher risk of early Alzheimer’s;
- Late Alzheimer’s, with late-onset – is the most common type of Alzheimer’s and affects people over 65; studies so far have not shown the exact causes why some people develop the disease and others do not;
- Family Alzheimer’s – is a form of the disease that doctors know for sure is related to genes; in affected families, members of at least two generations develop the disease; this type of Alzheimer’s accounts for only 1% of cases.
How Alzheimer’s disease manifests itself?
Memory loss is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. One of the first signs of the disease is the difficulty of the person concerned to remember recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, the memory becomes weaker and weaker and other clinical manifestations appear. There are also several conditions that are related to Alzheimer’s, but there are different diseases. Therefore, it is very important to consult a specialist to establish an appropriate diagnosis and treatment schedule.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Changes in the brain that occur in the case of this disease affect: memory, ability to think, make decisions independently, plan and solve current problems. However, there are certain abilities that can remain intact for a long time, even if the symptoms of the disease worsen. It is about reading, listening to and understanding stories, telling stories (most often from the distant past), the ability to sing, dance, draw, practice various crafts, listen consciously and take on music. These abilities are stored longer because they are controlled by a part of the brain that is affected later in the course of the disease.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease differ from patient to patient and evolve from case to case, faster or slower. However, general manifestations of this condition include the following:
- the patient repeats the same statements or questions;
- forget recent conversations, meetings, or events;
- he moves the things he uses frequently to unusual places and doesn’t remember;
- he gets lost in places he knows;
- forget the names of family members;
- have difficulty remembering the names of surrounding objects;
- they lose the ability to express their thoughts coherently in a conversation;
- have difficulty concentrating and thinking, especially related to abstract concepts such as numbers;
- the patient gradually loses the ability to understand the bills he receives;
- there is an inability to organize budgets or make financial plans;
- there is a gradual decrease in the ability to make decisions and make logical analyzes related to common situations – for example, an Alzheimer’s patient can put on a coat in the middle of summer;
- certain unusual reactions develop in routine situations – a person with this condition can easily leave a pan of food on the fire until it burns, without realizing that something is wrong;
- there is difficulty in solving current problems that involve several stages such as cooking;
- there are changes in personality and behavior: depression, apathy, irritability, aggression, abnormal sleep schedule, the unjustified appearance of suspicions about others.
When do we need to see a doctor?
As mentioned above, some symptoms may be similar to those of other conditions. It is important that at the first signs that show a deterioration of memory or other cognitive abilities, we should consult a specialist to do certain tests.
It is also essential to pay attention to those around us, especially if they are elderly, and to notice any abnormal changes in behavior or communication.
It should also be noted that Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, a term that is used to describe manifestations that are specific to mental decline.
Complications of Alzheimer’s disease
As the disease progresses to the final stage, changes in the brain can affect physical functions such as swallowing, maintaining balance, controlling physiological needs. All this can accentuate the vulnerability to other health problems such as:
- pneumonia and other infections;
- injuries caused by falls;
- food fragments that can reach the lungs;
- skin irritations caused by lying too much in bed;
Causes and risk factors
The exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown. Scientists, based on numerous studies done so far on this condition, believe that there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors related to lifestyle that affect the brain over time. In principle, however, it is about certain proteins that develop abnormally, affect the functions of nerve cells (in this case, neurons) and release toxic substances. Neurons are damaged, lose contact with each other and eventually die. Degeneration of nerve cells occurs first in the region of the brain that controls memory, and then their loss occurs in other areas of the brain.
Possible causes of Alzheimer’s disease
There are two possible causes of scientific research so far and they refer to different deposits of proteins in the brain:
- amyloid plaques – beta-amyloids are protein fragments; these segments group together and appear to have a toxic effect on neurons and disrupt communication between them; the initial formations of beta-amyloid increase, gathering other cellular debris and develop deposits called “amyloid plaques”; as these agglomerations of cell fragments become larger and more and more present, the more neurons degrade and are destroyed;
- your neurofibrillary tangles – normally, your proteins play a key role in transporting nutrients and helping neurons to function; in Alzheimer’s disease, they change shape and organize themselves into structures called “your neurofibrillary tangles”; they disrupt the transport of nutrients to neurons and become toxic.
Among the most common risk factors that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease are:
- age – usually the disease occurs in people over 65 years, but it can manifest itself even earlier;
- the existence of other cases in the family and genetic factors – the risks are usually higher if a first-degree relative has had or has the disease;
- Down Syndrome – many people with Down Syndrome have developed Alzheimer’s; also, according to Mayo Clinic, in the case of these patients, the disease tends to appear 10-20 years earlier than in the rest of the population;
- severe head trauma – people who have had severe head trauma in the past may develop the disease;
- Insufficient rest – several studies have shown that lack of sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or getting enough sleep can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s;
- lifestyle – lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor control of type 2 diabetes.
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease – how it evolves?
The evolution of Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes extend over more than ten years. Throughout it, this condition has several stages with specific manifestations. Below is a brief description of each of them, stating that the symptoms and the evolution itself differ from patient to patient.
There are five stages associated with Alzheimer’s disease:
- Early Alzheimer’s – preclinical;
- Slight cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s (may have other causes);
- Mild dementia, as a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease (may occur for other reasons);
- Moderate dementia caused by Alzheimer’s (there may be other causes);
- Severe dementia caused by Alzheimer’s (may have other causes).
The term “dementia” is used to describe a series of symptoms that affect intellectual capacity and social skills so severely that they lead to an inability to have normal activity and behavior.
Knowing the five stages of the disease helps you understand what may happen in the future, but it is important to note that these are just general descriptions and that, depending on the case, the disease may have different manifestations, slower or faster, milder or more severe than those listed below. In any case, keep in mind that this is a continuous process, irreversible, but that can be slowed or improved, and not cured, unfortunately, with the help of appropriate treatment.
Stage I – Preclinical Alzheimer’s– the disease begins long before the symptoms are visible, that is why it is called “preclinical Alzheimer’s”; this stage of the neurological condition can last for decades, without the person concerned or those around them realizing it; although not visible, there are some state-of-the-art tests that can detect the presence of beta-amyloid proteins, which can form plaques in certain regions of the brain and play an important role in triggering Alzheimer’s disease; there are also certain biomarkers that can identify the increased risk of developing the disease, but they are usually effective when the first signs already appear; various genetic tests can also be done, but they are not suitable for any patient and then it is essential to recommend a specialist who will tell you if they are indicated or not;
Stage II – Slight cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s – at this stage, there are some minor changes related to memory and the thought process, which do not affect, however, the ability to work or relate to others; It should be noted that not all people with cognitive decline suffer from Alzheimer’s, which can be a consequence of other medical problems; symptoms at this stage include:
- memory loss when it comes to information that is normally easy to remember, such as conversations, recent events, or appointments set in advance;
- wrong estimates of the time required or the correct steps to solve a problem;
- the ability to make quick decisions can be affected.
Stage III – Mild dementia, as a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease – this is usually the stage in which the disease is diagnosed because the symptoms become obvious; note that these symptoms may have other causes than Alzheimer’s disease; among the manifestations that can be observed at this stage are:
- the patient has difficulty remembering recent events;
- the patient asks the same questions several times;
- partial loss of ability to plan events and make financial decisions;
- behavioral changes – people become unusually irritable, especially in demanding situations;
- difficulty expressing thoughts;
- wandering frequently used objects or using them
Stage IV – Moderate dementia caused by Alzheimer’s – at this stage, patients have even more confusion, often forget and begin to need help with daily chores or to take care of them; Among the specific symptoms of this stage of the disease are:
- patients have times when they do not know where they are or what day of the week it is;
- patients have periods when they no longer recognize family members and close friends or confuse them with others;
- they can get lost very easily because they are looking for places where they feel safe;
- they can’t remember their address or phone number;
- repeats the same things or invents stories to cover memory gaps;
- need daily assistance to choose the right clothes for the weather, for example, to use the toilet or personal care products;
- behavioral changes are obvious – they tend to become suspicious and may believe, for example, that family members or friends are stealing things from their home or that their life partner is having an extramarital affair.
Stage V – Severe dementia caused by Alzheimer’s – mental functions continue to deteriorate and the patient no longer has the ability to move alone or lead a normal life without help; Among the typical manifestations for this stage of the disease are:
- loss of ability to speak coherently – the patient can no longer have a fluent conversation, although sometimes he can construct sentences or say words that make sense;
- the person in question can no longer feed on his own, can no longer take care of him, and is in constant need of assistance;
- loss of mobility – the patient may not be able to move without someone’s help;
- inability to sit in a chair or keep one’s head straight without outside support; muscles become stiff and abnormal muscle reflexes appear;
- the patient can no longer swallow, there is no control of urination and other functions.
Diagnosis and treatment
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a long process and involves several stages, from medical consultation, blood tests to radiological tests, which exclude other causes of dementia-specific symptoms. To establish an effective treatment scheme that meets the needs of the patient, it is very important to go to the doctor from the first symptoms.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease
In addition to the actual medical consultation that includes the patient’s medical history, the doctor may recommend several tests such as:
- physical and neurological examination – to check the general condition from a neurological point of view: reflexes, muscle tone, the ability to get up from a chair and walk around the room, coordinating movements, maintaining balance;
- blood tests – not to be confused with thyroid dysfunction or vitamin deficiency;
- mental and neuropsychological testing – the doctor can test the patient to see if he has memory or other cognitive problems;
- radiological testing – magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT);
- positron emission tomography – is a modern method of detecting Alzheimer’s disease, in which a substance is injected intravenously to see which areas of the brain are working properly and which are not;
- Genetic testing is not usually recommended, but if it is family Alzheimer’s they are relevant.
It should be noted that scientists are still trying to find new methods to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, just as they are looking for treatment schemes that not only slow down the process of nerve cell damage but also cure the disease.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
So far, scientists have not been able to find the exact drug treatment for Alzheimer’s, but there are certain substances that can relieve the symptoms of this disease. Among them, the specialist doctor could recommend:
- sleeping pills;
Also, certain herbal treatments may be indicated, which are complementary to the medicinal one. Certain herbs, vitamins, and supplements may have a positive effect in relieving symptoms, but there are no scientific studies that have proven their effectiveness so far. These include:
- Omega 3
- Vitamin E
In addition to these types of treatment, it is very important for a person with Alzheimer’s to exercise daily, have a healthy diet, be socially active, and have activities that keep his or her abilities and skills intact. affected only in the late stage of the disease, such as reading or creativity.
Then, it is essential to take care of such a person and create an environment in which they can feel as comfortable as possible. The specialists make some recommendations in this regard:
- one place in the house for important items – it is good to keep keys, wallets, mobile phones, and other valuables in the same place in the house, so as not to get lost;
- a safe place for medicines – we need to put the medicines in a safe place and it is advisable to use a list to check the daily dosages;
- payment automation – to get rid of invoices and papers that contain many numbers;
- fixed -term meetings – as far as possible, important meetings should take place on the same day and at the same time;
- scheduling activities on the calendar – a calendar in which to record daily activities and ticking them when they have been completed can be useful;
- as much free space as possible – it is recommended to give up unnecessary furniture and objects that block the penetration of natural light into the home;
- as few mirrors as possible – reducing the number of mirrors, because people with Alzheimer’s can perceive scary mirror images and feel confused;
- a quick way to identify – a person with Alzheimer’s should always wear a medical bracelet or medallion with identification data, if lost;
- photos are very important – it is recommended to keep as many photos in the house as possible.
Alzheimer’s disease prevention
Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented, primarily because the exact causes that lead to it are not known. However, there are certain factors that are related to lifestyle and that can have a certain influence. The course of the disease differs from person to person. On average, an Alzheimer’s patient lives between three and 11 years after diagnosis, but some survive 20 years. The timing of the condition, compliance with doctors’ recommendations, and proper care of such a patient are essential in terms of life expectancy.
According to experts, there are studies that show that changing diet, exercise – which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease – can have a similar effect on the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that cause dementia. There are, therefore, some recommendations that could be considered measures to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, specifying whether or not they may have effects:
- frequent exercise;
- a diet with fresh products, which have healthy fats and low content of saturated fats;
- adherence to treatment to control blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol;
- smoking cessation;
- participation in social events;
- reading, dancing;
- permanent stimulation of creativity;
- practicing games that develop and maintain cognitive functions;
- playing a musical instrument;
- encouraging participation in any activity that requires mental and social involvement.
Therefore, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neurological disease that generally affects people over the age of 65, but can also occur at other ages. The exact causes of its occurrence are not known, nor is there a method of treatment so effective as to cure it. However, it is important to go to the doctor at the first symptoms because there are methods that can improve the manifestations. Then, caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is essential for increasing life expectancy.