Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia. Dementia is a broader term for conditions caused by severe brain injuries or illnesses that negatively affect and impact the memory, thinking, and behavior of an individual.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that affects the brain. Symptoms are mild at first and become more severe over time. It is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who originally depicted the condition in 1906. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, language problems, and impulsive or unpredictable behavior.
One of the main features of the condition is the presence of plaques and tangles in the brain. Another feature is the loss of connection between nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. These characteristics mean that information cannot easily pass between different regions of the brain or between the brain and muscles or organs.
As symptoms worsen, it becomes difficult for people to remember recent events, causes, and identify those they know. Ultimately, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may require full-time support. As per the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s sickness is the 6th driving reason for death in the U.S. Nonetheless, Other recent estimates suggest that it may be the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
Similar to all other types of dementia, Alzheimer’s develops due to the death of brain cells. It is a neurodegenerative condition, meaning that brain cell death occurs over time. In a person with Alzheimer’s, there are fewer brain tissues and fewer nerve cells and connections in the brain tissue, and smaller deposits, known as plaques and tangles, are formed on the nervous tissue.
Plaques develop between the dying cells of the brain. They are made up of a protein called beta-amyloid. Meanwhile, tangles occur within nerve cells. They are made up of another protein, called tau. Researchers are unable to fully understand why these changes occur. Several factors may be involved.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Everyone has amnesia from time to time. But people with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit some ongoing behaviors and symptoms that worsen over time. These may include:
- Memory loss affecting daily activities, such as the ability to hold appointments.
- Problems with familiar tasks, such as using a microwave.
- Difficulties with problem-solving.
- Trouble speaking or writing.
- Get distracted about time or place.
- Decision Reduction.
- Decrease in personal hygiene.
- Mood and personality changes.
- Return from friends, family, and community.
Symptoms change according to the stage of the disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease Stages
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that symptoms will progressively deteriorate over the long run. Alzheimer’s is divided into seven stages
Stage 1- At this stage, there are no symptoms but an initial diagnosis can be made based on family history.
Stage 2- The earliest symptoms appear, such as amnesia.
Stage 3- Gentle physical and mental debilitations show up, like decreased memory and focus. These may just be observable by somebody exceptionally near the individual.
Stage 4- Alzheimer’s is frequently analyzed at this stage, yet it’s thought to be gentle. Cognitive decline and the failure to perform regular undertakings are clear.
Stage 5- Moderate to serious side effects need support from friends and family or parental figures.
Stage 6- At this stage, an individual with Alzheimer’s may require to assist with fundamental assignments, like eating and getting into garments.
Stage 7- This is the most extreme and last phase of Alzheimer’s. There may be a loss of speech and facial expressions.
As someone goes through these stages, they will need increased support from the caregiver.
Alzheimer’s Disease vs. other types of Dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term for many conditions including loss of cognitive functioning. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. In this, plaques and tangles are formed in the brain. Symptoms start slowly and are most likely to include a decline in cognitive function and language ability.
Other kinds of dementia include Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. An individual can have more than one type of dementia.
The Role of Plaques and Tangles
Two unusual structures called plaques and tangles are the prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells.
- The plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyd) that forms in the spaces between nerve cells.
- Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau (sung with “wow”) that form inside cells.
The autopsy studies tell that most individuals develop and form some plaques and tangles as they age over time but people with Alzheimer’s develop in more predictable patterns than they begin in areas important for memory before spreading to other areas.
Scientists do not know exactly what role plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer’s disease. Most experts believe they somehow play a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting processes that cells need to survive. It is the destruction and death of nerve cells that causes memory failure, personality changes, problems completing daily activities, and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease and The Brain Relation
Subtle changes in the brain begin long before the first symptoms of memory loss. There are 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Each nerve cell connects to many others to form a communication network. Groups of nerve cells have special functions. Some are involved in thinking, learning, and remembering. Others help us see, hear and smell.
The brain cells work like small factories to do their work. They get supplies, generate energy, build equipment and get rid of waste. Cells also process and store information and communicate with other cells. Coordinating as well as large amounts of fuel and oxygen are required to keep everything running.
Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s disease prevents and stops parts of the cell factory from functioning well. They are not sure and clear where the trouble begins. But like a real factory, backups, and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As the damage spreads, the cells lose their ability and capability to function and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.
Alzheimer’s Disease Testing
To get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a person will experience memory loss, cognitive decline, or behavioral changes that are affecting their ability to function in their daily lives. One can see the symptoms of dementia in front of a person having friends and family. There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. If a doctor suspects or sees the presence of the condition of this, they will ask the person and sometimes their family or caretakers about their symptoms, indications, experiences, and medical history.
The doctor may also perform the following tests for Alzheimer’s disease-
- Cognitive and memory tests assess a person’s ability to think and remember.
- Neurological function tests test their balance, senses, and reflexes.
- Blood or urine test.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
- Brain CT scan or MRI scan.
- genetic testing.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
In some cases, genetic testing may be appropriate, as symptoms of dementia may be related to an inherited condition such as Huntington’s disease. Some variants of the APOE e4 gene are associated with a higher probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Early testing for relevant genes can indicate the likelihood of someone having a condition or developing it. However, the test is controversial, and the results are not completely reliable.
Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It is not possible to reverse the death of brain cells. However, treatments can relieve its symptoms and improve the quality of life for the individual and their family and caregivers.
The following are the important elements of dementia treatment and care-
- Effective management of any condition with Alzheimer’s
- Activities and daycare programs
- Participation in support groups and services
Medications for cognitive symptoms
There are no disease-modifying drugs available for Alzheimer’s disease, but some options can reduce symptoms and help improve quality of life. Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors can reduce cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, altered thought processes, and decision problems. They improve nerve communication throughout the brain and slow the progression of these symptoms
There are three most common medicines with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to treat these symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Deadpezil (ericept), helps to treat all stages
- Galantamine (Razadyne), helps to treat mild to moderate stages
- Rivastigmine (Exelon), helps to treat mild to moderate stages
Another drug is called memantine (Namenda), which is approved for the treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. A combination of memantine and donepezil (Namzaric) is also available.
Emotion and behavior treatments
Managing the emotional and behavioral changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging. People may experience rapid irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, sleep problems, and other difficulties. It may be helpful to treat the underlying causes of these changes. Some medications may have side effects, discomfort with other medical conditions, or hearing or vision problems.
Identifying the cause of these behaviors and avoiding or changing these things can help people cope with the changes. Triggers may include changing environments, new caretakers, or asking to bathe or change clothes. It is often possible to change the environment to remove obstacles and promote individual comfort, safety, and peace of mind. The Alzheimer’s Association provides a list of helpful copulation tips for caregivers.
In some cases, doctors may recommend medications for these symptoms, such as:
- Antidepressant for low mood
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Antipsychotic medications for hallucinations, delusions, or aggression
Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease
Risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease are-
- Aging of an individual
- Having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease
- Due to the carrying of certain genes
- Various traumatic brain injuries
- Having exposure to some environmental contaminants, such as toxic metals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals.
Some Modifiable and Changeable factors that may help prevent Alzheimer’s include-
- Exercising regularly
- Following a varied and healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system
- Managing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure
- Keep the brain active throughout life
FAQs Related to Alzheimer’s Disease
What is the main cause of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by the abnormal formation of proteins in and around brain cells. One of the proteins involved is called amyloid, which, when deposited, forms plaques around brain cells. The other protein is called tau, whose deposits get entangled within the brain cells.
What exactly does Alzheimer’s do to a person?
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people experience more memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. Problems can include wandering and getting lost, trouble in handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer time to complete normal daily tasks, and changes in personality and behavior frequently.
How does peanut butter detect Alzheimer’s?
Peanut butter can serve a greater purpose than just being fun to eat – the inability to smell it can help detect early-stage Alzheimer’s. Researchers at the University of Florida conducted a peanut butter odor test on study participants to determine if there was a correlation between odor deficiency and early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
What they discovered is that this test can actually confirm the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Here’s how it worked:
- Each study participant closed their eyes, mouth, and one nostril at a pre-determined distance before approaching an open jar of peanut butter.
- Once the study participant started sniffing peanut butter while walking toward the jar, the researchers noted the distance. The same process was repeated for the other nostril as well.
Researchers found that people who lacked odor in the left nostril had Alzheimer’s in the early stage. He noted that participants needed an average of about 10 centimeters of peanut butter container to sniff it from their left nostril compared to their right nostril.
How do Alzheimer’s patients feel?
- People begin to lose things in the early stages of the disease.
- Forgetting once-familiar faces.
- Struggle to recall recent events.
- Other cognitive problems develop soon including a short attention span.
- Difficulties with language.
- An inability to think logically.
How long do Alzheimer’s patients live?
On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis but may live up to 20 years, depending on other factors.
Why do Alzheimer’s patients worsen at night?
Many people who experience sundowning syndrome have trouble sleeping at night. In turn, fatigue is a common trigger of sundowning. This can create a vicious cycle. Too much sleep and inactivity during the day can make it difficult for your loved one to fall asleep while sleeping.
Sundowning is a symptom and indication of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is also known as “late-day confusion”. If someone you care about and love may have dementia, their confusion and aggravation may intensify in the late afternoon and evening. In comparison, their symptoms may be less pronounced and seen earlier in the day.
7 Important Tips for Reducing Sundowning
- Stick them to a schedule.
- Light up their lives every day with love and care.
- Keep them active daily.
- Adjust and check their eating patterns.
- Minimize their stress level.
- Provide them comfort and familiarity.
- Track their behavior.