As we grow older, one of the most common diseases to be wary of is Alzheimer’s disease which has been tagged as the most common cause of dementia in aging people.
This disease is best described as a progressive brain impairment that damages the memory and ability to think or carry out simple daily tasks. People who have dementia experience a decline in cognitive abilities and have difficulties in thinking, reasoning and remembering, to the point where it makes their daily life more difficult.
Statistics of prevalence Of Alzheimer’s Disease
Usually, most sufferers begin to experience symptoms in their mid-60’s some can begin at 65 or older. In 2014, studies showed that an estimate of 5 million Americans aged 65 years and above had Alzheimer’s disease and this number is predicted to increase to 14 million by the year 2060.
This finding is a result of the fact that the number of people living with Alzheimer’s double every 5 years. The symptoms may appear at 60 years or more and the risk increases with age. It is considered one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States and the 6th leading cause of death among adults in the US.
This disease can vary in severity, it begins rather mild and at this stage, one may experience forgetfulness and affected the overall functioning of a person. At the chronic stage, the person can no longer do without relying completely on other people in order to carry out the simplest daily activities.
Alzheimer’s disease is only one form of dementia; other forms of dementia include frontal-temporal disorder, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia. Sometimes, a person may have more than one form of dementia, this is called mixed dementia.
Where does the name Alzheimer come from?
Alzheimer’s disease was simply named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer’s. In 1906, during the medical process of examining the brain of a woman who had died of an unusual mental disorder, Dr. Alzheimer observed that there were unusual changes in her brain tissue.
It had been earlier observed that the dead patient suffered memory loss, problems in speaking and understanding language and had erratic behavior. Dr. Alzheimer took a closer look at her brain tissues and discovered that the growth of abnormal clumps has occurred inside.
These clumps are currently referred to as amyloid plaques and bundles of fibers that are tangled together – These ones are now referred to as tangles, Tau or neurofibrillary. The main characteristics of the Alzheimer’s disease, therefore, became the presence of these plaques and tangles in the human brain.
Another feature of this disease is the absence of links between neurons in the brain – the neurons are responsible for the transmission of messages among parts of the brain and from the brain to the other organs and muscles in the human body.
Stages of brain changes at the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease
The mild stage
The changes to the brain when a person is hit with Alzheimer’s is rather complex. These changes start off a decade before memory loss and decline in other cognitive abilities are even noticed. This preclinical stage, even though toxic, is often symptom-free.
Deposits of protein amyloid plaques and tau tangles and neurons malfunction and disconnect with other neurons and die off. The memory forming parts of the brain hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are first damaged and as the disease progresses other brain parts shrink.
The moderate stage
At this stage language, reasoning and sensory processing become difficult. Memory loss, confusion and ability to recognize friends and family begin to occur. Carrying out simple daily tasks becomes q problem. One may also experience paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.
The severe stage
This is more or less the final stage of Alzheimer’s and comes with a severe shrinking of the brain tissues and widespread damage in the brain. Sufferers experience communication problems at this stage and complete dependency on others. This may happen until the sufferer is finally bedridden until the point of death.
What are the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
- The decline in cognition – this includes vision, impaired judgment and reasoning, and language. This is often noticed at the early stage
- Memory problems – some people with memory problems develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
- Difficulties in movement and a reduced sense of smell associated with MCI
Older people with MCI are prone to developing Alzheimer’s; some, however, regain their normal cognitive functions after some time. Sufferers may generally wander, get lost, lose money, question others repeatedly, complete daily tasks very slowly and other behavioral changes.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
The causes of this disease aren’t very clear although a genetic mutation is suspect in people with early onset of the disease. Health, environmental and lifestyle factors may also cause a series of brain change over decades that eventually lead to late-onset of Alzheimer’s’. These causative factors may vary from person to person.
Late-onset of Alzheimer’s (the mid-’60s) is more common. Having one form of apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene has been known to increase the risk of developing this disease.
Carrying the APOE gene form however doesn’t mean that one must have this disease as people without the gene may also have the disease. Inherited changes in one of the genes can lead to early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease type (FAD). People with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s because they have an extra copy of chromosome 21 which holds the gene responsible for forming amyloid.
Health, Environmental and lifestyle factors
Mentally stimulating activities, physical and social engagements, and good dieting have all been proven to help people maintain their health status as they grow old. They are also helpful in reducing the risk of overall cognitive decline including Alzheimer’s disease.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease
In diagnosing this disease, a doctor may need to enquire from a person and his family members about the following:
- Use of medications in the past and present
- Medical history
- Personality and behavioral changes
- Ability to carry out daily activities
The doctor may also conduct tests such as blood and urine tests to identify other causative factors. Memory tests and other tests such as counting, language, and attention tests are also conducted. Brain scans such as Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI), and Position Emission Tomography (PET) are also carried out.
Treatment for Alzheimer disease / Managing mental functions and behavior
Symptoms of Alzheimer disease are managed with several drugs such as Donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Razadyne), these are used for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
Memantine (Namenda), and Namaric are used for the management of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. These drugs help to boost the functionality of the neurons in transmitting messages.
They reduce and manage some behavioral problems such as sleeplessness, anxiety, agitation, and aggression associated with Alzheimer’s but do not completely eliminate the disease. In 2010, the cost of treating Alzheimer’s hovers between $159 – $125 billion annually. By 2040, it is projected to have an annual cost between $379 to over $500 billion.
New methods of prevention and treatment are still undergoing scientific researches supported by NIA. Biomarkers are still under study by scientists so as to be able to detect the signs of the disease in the blood, cerebrospinal fluids, and brain images.
This only will aid possible early detection and proper diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Early diagnosis may not stop or reverse the progression automatically but will aid daily function for a period of time.
Early diagnosis can also help the family of a sufferer to prepare for the future in areas of finance, personal safety and living arrangements and other basic support some of which are obtained by joining support groups for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.