Alzheimer’s disease : Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a result of the brain degenerating/wasting away ad dying. This destroys memory and thinking skills. Typically, it is a progressive and irreversible disorder that is a common cause of dementia. Also, Alzheimer’s disease is usually associated with changes in behavioral and social skills. Definitely, this disrupts the ability of a person to function independently.

Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer’s disease

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease is shown by forgetting recent conversations or events, and the disease progresses to a state where a person develops severe loss and inability to function independently. Usually, Alzheimer’s disease occurs in people in their mid 60, but the onset may begin as early as 30 years old.

Is Alzheimer’s treatable?

Currently, some medications can help in slowing down the rate of decline or improving memory. This gives patients some degree of independence and helps them maximize function.  However, the medication works temporarily.

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not well understood. According to scientists, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a combination of factors – genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, which affects the brain with time.

The core problem is the proteins within the brain that malfunctions, disrupting the working of the brain neurons and unleashing a series of toxic events. When neurons are damaged, they lose connections with each other and will eventually die.

This damage usually starts from the part of the brain that is in charge of memory and spreads following a particular pattern to other parts of the brain. As the diseases progress, so the brain shrinks.  The two significant proteins under scrutiny are:

  • Plaques (Beta-amyloid): leftover fragment (Beta-amyloid) of proteins cluster together within the brain. With time, they form larger deposits – amyloid plaques that may include other cellular debris. Such clusters have a toxic effect on nerve cells, and they disrupt cell-to-cell communication.
  • Tangles: in Alzheimer’s disease, tau proteins (proteins vital in transport and support system – carrying essential materials and nutrients), change shape and organize themselves into structures known as neurofibrillary tangles. Besides being toxic, the tangles disrupt the transport system

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

There are following Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:

1. Memory loss

people having Alzheimer’s disease may find it difficult to remember things. The loss of memory persists and gets worse with time. Such people may:

  • Continuously repeat statements and questions
  • Forget appointments, conversations, or events, and not remember them later
  • Routinely misplace possessions, usually placing them in illogical locations
  • Get lost in usually familiar places
  • Forgetting names of friends family members and everyday objects
  • Difficulty finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts as well as take part in conversations

2. Thinking and reasoning:

Alzheimer’s disease drastically reduces a person’s concentration, especially when dealing with abstract concepts, e.g., numbers. Moreover, multi-tasking becomes difficult, and such people may not be able to manage finances, balance checkbooks, and pay bills on time.

Changes in personality and behavior: Alzheimer’s is a result of changes in brain chemical. This may cause mood and behavioral changes. This may result in problems like:

  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Apathy
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Distrust in others
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Delusions, e.g., believing something has been stolen
  • Wandering

3. The declining ability to make judgements and decisions

It may manifest in inform of making poor choices or responses to people or situations or even inappropriate dressing.

4. Planning and performing familiar tasks difficulties:

Tasks that occur in sequence, e.g., cooking may prove difficult for people with Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses, these individuals forget how to perform this activity thoroughly.

Risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Age
  • Family history and genetics
  • Down syndrome
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Sex
  • Past head trauma
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Heart health such as high blood pressures, high cholesterol
  • Lifestyle such as lack of exercises, obesity, smoking

Prevention practices

Can we prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

You cannot prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, modifying lifestyle risk factors can reduce the odds of getting the disease. For instance, regular exercise, not smoking and eating healthy meals, keep your heart healthy, lower blood pressures, and manages diabetes, conditions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Self-reporting and reports from a close relative about symptoms
  • Laboratory and imaging tests
  • Tests that doctor administers to assess memory and thinking skills

Test include:

  • Physical and neurological exam: Reflexes, Muscle tone, and strength, Coordination, ability to get up from a chair and walk across the room, Balance, and sense of sight and hearing
  • Lab tests: a blood test to rule out other conditions
  • Brain imaging: MRI, CT, Fluorodeoxyglucose PET, Amyloid PET imaging and Tau Pet imaging

Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

Drugs include:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors to boost levels of cell-to-cell communication by preserving a chemical messenger, which is depleted in the brain by Alzheimer’s disease
  • Memantine (Namenda) which slows down the progression of symptoms by stimulating the brain cell communication network
  • Antidepressants which control behavioral symptoms

It is vital to also provide a supportive and positive environment for these individuals.