Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental condition in which the brain cells degenerate and die. This causes the person to forget events and conversations, even the most recent ones. While in the later stages of the disease, a person might develop critical memory loss and even become severely unfit to carry out everyday tasks. The disease causes a neurological disorder which is the primary cause of memory and cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which results in a continuous decline of the thought process, as well as social and behavioural skills of a person. It is a neurodegenerative disease, which might have mild symptoms in the beginning but goes on to become severely intense over time. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s; however, certain medications and treatment can help reduce and manage symptoms or even slow down the declining memory and cognitive loss. That said, with increasing age and advancing stages of the disease, the person can suffer from complete loss of brain function such as dehydration, malnutrition and even infection, which could ultimately cause death.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
As mentioned, during the initial stages, a person might not experience any symptoms of the disease. However, as the condition progresses it causes memory loss even of the most recent of events and conversations. This is the primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. These memory impairments worsen with time and even cause cognitive loss-making a person completely unable to even carry out the most basic of the everyday tasks.
Some of the most obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s condition include:
Decreased ability of a person to grasp and remember new information, causing events such as:
- Repetitive questions, events or conversations
- Frequently misplacing personal items
- Forgetting events or appointments
- Forgetting even the most familiar or common of routes
Impaired reasoning, complex tasking and judgment skills, such as:
- Lack of understanding of basic safety risks
- Inability to manage money
- Inability to make decisions
- Inability to carry out complex or sequential activities
Reduced visuospatial abilities, which are not typically caused due to vision issues; this can include:
- The inability of a person to recognize faces, even of family members or friends
- Difficulty in comprehending several things at once
- Difficulty in reading normal text, also known as alexia
- Failure to find items placed right in front or in direct view
- Incapability to perform normal everyday tasks such as wearing clothes
Impaired speech, as well as reading and writing skills, such as:
- A problem in speaking and thinking of basic words in the first language
- Hesitation or slurred speech
- Recurrent errors in writing, speaking or spelling
Noticeable changes in personality and behaviour, such as:
- Extreme and unrelated mood-changes, including social withdrawal, agitation, apathy, lack of motivation, etc.
- Loss of empathy for other
- Socially unacceptable behaviour including compulsive and obsessive disorders
The number of these symptoms and the severity of the condition will confirm dementia, which will further be assessed based on the below two factors to confirm for Alzheimer’s:
- A gradually intensifying condition – months to years
- A significant worsening of normal cognitive skills, especially in some areas
If symptoms tend to intensify within a few days or hours, immediate medical help should be sought since the condition can also indicate an acute illness.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease; it can be classified in term of stages, depending on the condition of the patient. These three stages include:
- Preclinical or the stage before the onset of symptoms
- Mild symptoms including cognitive skill impairment
- Dementia with critical symptoms and loss
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no single or particular test which can determine if a person has Alzheimer’s disease. However, the doctors study the symptoms and the physical condition of the patient, as well as evaluate the medical history to make a diagnosis.
An assessment of the person’s neurological function is also made through a test of the balancing skills and senses plus reflexes. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor also conducts blood or urine test, along with an MRI or CT scan of the brain to check for any signs of depression, which can be a trigger of the condition.
In the end, the doctor will conduct tricky cognitive and memory tests to assess the person’s ability to think, remember and respond.
Causes and Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no definitive or single cause for the Alzheimer’s condition. However, a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors affect the brain over time. These changes cause a neurodegenerative issue in the brain, leading to the death of brain cells in a period of time. Thus, in a person suffering from Alzheimer’s, there are fewer nerve cells and connections.
Even though the exact cause of the disease is not understood, it is associated with the failure of brain proteins (namely plaques and tangles) to function normally. These hamper the working of brain cells, causing a series of events which are toxic in nature such as damaged neurons, lost connections and death.
The damage primarily begins at the part of the brain which controls the memory. The symptoms come much later, even though the process begins quite in advance. The loss of neurons overtime spreads to other parts of the brain, which eventually shrinks the brain in size significantly at the advanced stages.
That said, some factors make certain peoples more prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease than others. These include:
- Increasing age
- Family history and genetics
- Down syndrome
- Gender (women are more at risk as compared to men)
- Mild cognitive impairment
- Head trauma of the past
- Poor sleep patterns
- A sedentary lifestyle and heart health
Even though not curable, the condition can be prevented provided appropriate medical consultation is sought and proper lifestyle and diet measures are followed. On the other hand, medications can effectively reduce the severity of symptoms and help manage a decent quality of life.