What is Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease in a broader term is referred for progressive form of Dementia where the brain gradually loses its ability to remember, think and control the motion of behaviour.

In this condition, as the brain cells degenerate and die gradually, the brain stops responding to logical situations. Alzheimer’s symptoms start with forgetting recent conversations and events and the condition can gradually progress up to a situation where it becomes impossible to remember even daily work.

As of now, Alzheimer’s disease does not come with a definitive cure but with medications and lifestyle changes, the symptoms can be slowed down. If it remains untreated, Alzheimer’s disease can result into bed-bound state resulting in  malnutrition, infection or severe dehydration. These derived complications often become the cause of death of the patient.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Most of the symptoms revolve around different degrees of memory loss and problems originating from memory loss. Normal human brain keeps forgetting older things so that more recent occurring can take that place. But, with Alzheimer’s brain, the trend of forgetting is chronic and gradually increasing. If not treated, the symptoms can get worse with time.

  • Forgetting everyday assignments and tasks
  • Decrease in judgemental power
  • Trouble in remembering daily-used stuff like the car or the microwave
  • Trouble with speech and easy writing
  • Mood swings and personality changes
  • Difficulty with problem-solving
  • Confusion with time and date
  • Loss of Interest in personal hygiene.
  • Disconnection from known community, friends and family
  • Repetitions of same questions over and over again.
  • Getting lost in familiar places and at times with in home itself

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

If not on treatment, Dementia increases with time and stages.

Stage 1: Negligible to no-symptoms; often diagnosed from hereditary probability

Stage 2: Mild forgetfulness appears with not much hindrance in daily life

Stage 3: Reduced concentration and weak older memory; mostly noticeable by people who regularly interact with the patient

Stage 4: At this stage, a person is officially declared as mild alzheimer’s

Stage 5: The symptoms increase and gradually move from moderate to severe level

Stage 6: At this advanced level, the affected person needs assistance in simple regular activities like putting on clothes or eating

Stage 7: This is the final of all dementia stages where the person loses his speech and facial expressions

Diagnosis and tests for Alzheimer’s Disease

Diagnosis

Instead of directly diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, this problem is diagnosed with mental, physical and psychological symptoms. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease includes:

  • Direct and indirect symptoms
  • Past and present health condition
  • Family history
  • Current or past medications

Tests

Just like the diagnosis, there is no definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease as well. Therefore, Alzheimer’s disease tests include several mental, physical, imaging and neurological tests for an overall understanding of the patient’s mental and physical health.

To address what type of memory loss is it (long-term, short-term, existing and previously made memories, incapability of forming new memories, difficulty with understanding etc), few common questions are asked like:

  • The time of the day
  • Name of very important personalities (president, prime minister)
  • Learning and remembering a list of words

Few indirect Alzheimer tests are:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

Medication for Alzheimer’s Disease

Patients are prescribed multiple medications for healing the symptoms and delaying the process of the disease. Rivastigmine (Exelon) and Donepezil (Aricep) are 2 medicines prescribed mostly to treat early to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These medicines keep up the acetylcholine level of our brain that helps in better communication among the brain cells.

Apart from these, medicines are given to treat the symptoms like:

  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • hallucinations
  • Aggression

How to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Though there’s no foolproof cure of Alzheimer’s disease, the patients are advised to lead an overall healthy and preventive lifestyle that includes:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Following a plant-based diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • cognitive training exercises
  • Antioxidant-rich diet
  • Maintaining a more active social life

Many people get confused between Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Dementia is a group of mental cognitive hindrance symptoms where Alzheimer’s disease is a type of it.

Content Reviewed By: Dr. Kunal Bahrani