Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a disorder that causes degeneration of the cells in the brain; and it is the major cause of dementia, and is characterized by a decline in thinking ability and independence in personal daily activities. It also causes the brain shrinkage and death. Alzheimer’s disease affects people of age 65 years and above with only 10% of cases occurring in people younger than this.
In AD, plaques are formed in the hippocampus, which helps in encoding memories, and in other areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in thinking and making decisions.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease develops in a progressive manner, with the symptoms becoming worse over time. The key features of AD are memory loss, and it is also the first symptoms to develop.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
Memory loss: An AD patient usually has difficulty in taking and processing new information as well as in remembering new information. This leads to:
- Repeating questions and conversations.
- Forgetting about events or appointments.
- They wander about and usually get lost.
Cognitive deficit: The patient experiences difficulty in reasoning, complex task and in judgment.
Problem with recognition: The patient may not be able to recognize faces or objects.
Problems with speaking, reading and writing: The patient would develop difficulties remembering common words, or make more speech, writing and spelling errors.
Personality and behavior changes: The patient may experience certain changes in personality and behavior that include:
- A loss of interest of motivation in activities they previously enjoyed engaging in.
- A loss of empathy.
- The person may become upset, angry or worried often than before.
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease occurs in stages; from mild to severe cases.
Mild Alzheimer’s disease
Patients with mild AD have memory problems and cognitive difficulties, which may also include:
- Difficulties in handling money or paying bills.
- Wandering aimlessly and getting lost often.
- Experiencing behavioral and personality changes.
- Not being able to perform daily task in shorter time.
In this stage of the disease, the parts of the brain responsible for language, senses, reasoning and consciousness are damaged. The patient finds it difficult recognizing family and friends, lose the ability to learn new things and finds it difficult coping with new the situation. Hallucinations, delusions and paranoid sets in.
In this stage, plaques and tangle, which cause brain tissue to shrink substantially, begin to occur.
Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease
The older a person becomes, the greater the person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Age remains the greatest risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease.
Family history: An individual, whose parents or sibling has the disease, is at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Many people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease later on. This may be associated with having three copies of chromosome 21 and subsequently three copies of the gene for coding the protein that leads to the formation of beta-amyloid. Patients of Down syndrome expresses signs and symptoms of AD 10 to 20 years earlier than in general population.
Patients who suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) are at greater risk of developing AD. The more severe the TBI, the greater the chances of developing AD.
Treatments of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, currently. But there are however, some available medicines that can temporarily reduce the symptoms. Some of the medications for AD are:
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors
The medicine works by increasing the cellular levels of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a brain neurotransmitter that helps nerve cells communicate with each other.
AChE inhibitors include Donepezil, Galantamine and Rivastigmine. They can be prescribed for people with early-to mild-stage AD.
Some side effects associated with these medications include nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Memantine works by inhibiting the effects of excess amount of glutamate. It is best used to treat moderate or severe AD and good for those who cannot use AChE inhibitors.
Side effects associated with memantine medication include headache, constipation and dizziness.