Alzheimer’s disease is a group disorders involving the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. Alzheimer’s disease is becoming tragically common. It is estimated that there are currently 18 million people worldwide with Alzheimers disease. Dementia is a disease of the nervous system characterized by loss of certain mental abilities. This loss is severe enough to interfere with normal activities and lasts at least six months. Dementia is the term for the deterioration of brain function that results in loss of memory, reduced language skills, impaired reasoning and behavioural and emotional problems. As the disease develops, a person loses the ability to carry out familiar tasks, to reason, and to exercise judgment. Moods, personality, and ability to communicate may also be affected. People with AD typically die within eight years of their diagnosis. Some individuals may die within a year of diagnosis, others may live as long as twenty years.
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, which means that symptoms worsen over time. Language difficulties also are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s can lose their sense of time and place – they may, for example, get dressed in the middle of the night or walk off and get lost. New surroundings and new people may be confusing. The disease typically progresses to the stage where it is difficult for the patient to be understood by others or to understand others, and in the final stages, the patient is bedridden. Free radicals are another factor in the formation of tangles and plaques. Free radicals are very active chemicals that form in the brain and damage brain cells. Chemicals known as antioxidants react with and destroy free radicals. Unfortunately there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, drugs can help to slow down the progression or relieve some symptoms and delay the need for residential care. Other therapies and support are available.
Causes of Alzheimers Disease
The exect causes of alzheimers disease are currently not known. Alzheimer’s is caused by a loss of brain cells, as well as changes in the cerebral cortex. Free radicals are another factor in the formation of tangles and plaques. Free radicals are very active chemicals that form in the brain and damage brain cells. Chemicals known as antioxidants react with and destroy free radicals. Another risk factor is heredity. People whose family members have had AD are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those whose families do not have this history. People who have hypothyroidism or have experienced head injuries are also at relatively high risk for AD. Environmental factors have sometimes been proposed as possible causes for Alzheimers disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimers Disease
The earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. Memory loss by itself is not an indication that a person has Alzheimer’s disease. Some memory loss is a natural part of growing old. People with Alzheimer’s can lose their sense of time and place – they may, for example, get dressed in the middle of the night or walk off and get lost. In early stages of the disease, family or friends may notice changes in behaviour. As the disease progresses, memory loss gets worse and some people have difficulty in learning new skills. Changes in behaviour may become more obvious, with people saying or doing things that are out of character. Some people become depressed because they realise what is happening to them. During the late stages of the disease, people with Alzheimer’s may become totally dependent on others for their care. Walking can become difficult and urinary incontinence may develop.
Treatment of Alzheimers Disease
There is currently no cure and virtually no medical treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. However, drugs can help to slow down the progression or relieve some symptoms and delay the need for residential care. A type of drug called cholinesterase inhibitors are used for people with moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They work by reducing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, levels of which are low in Alzheimer’s. There are three such drugs available: donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine and galantamine. Another drug, memantine, was launched for people in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes anti-depressant medicines are prescribed to help treat the depression that can be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Some people may benefit from anti-psychotic medicines.