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Alzheimer’s disease Overview
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear after age 65. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning thinking, remembering, and reasoning and behavioral abilities, to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop. They also become more severe.
Most Common Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people. Dementia is a loss of thinking, remembering, and reasoning skills that interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from the mild stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic care.
Estimates vary, but experts suggest that more than 5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid 60s, and the risk of developing the disease increases with age. While younger people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s may get Alzheimer’s disease, it is much less common. It is important to note that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
The course of Alzheimer’s disease which symptoms appear and how quickly changes occur varies from person to person. The time from diagnosis to death varies, too. It can be as little as 3 or 4 years if the person is over 80 years old when diagnosed or as long as 10 years or more if the person is younger.
Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
The information in this section connects closely to some of that about tests and diagnosis below because symptoms noticed by patients, or people close to them, are exactly the same signs that healthcare professionals look for during testing.
Symptoms can be diagnosed at any stage of Alzheimer’s dementia and the progression through the stages of the disease is monitored after an initial diagnosis, too, when the developing symptoms dictate how care is managed.
Very Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of cognitive loss, possibly due to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with memory problems have a condition called amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with this condition have more memory problems than normal for people their age, but their symptoms are not as severe as those seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Other recent studies have found links between some movement difficulties and MCI. Researchers also have seen links between MCI and some problems with the sense of smell. The ability of people with MCI to perform normal daily activities is not significantly impaired. However, more older people with MCI, compared with those without MCI, go on to develop Alzheimer’s.
Read more about – 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease – the death of brain cells in the dementia cannot be halted or reversed.
However, much backing for therapeutic interventions to help people live with Alzheimer’s disease.
Along with an aim to improve research into prevention and treatment, the goals of the plan also include measures for present interventions:
- Enhance care quality and efficiency
- Expand supports for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, and
- Enhance public awareness and engagement.
There are no disease-modifying drugs available for Alzheimer’s disease but some options may reduce its symptoms and help improve quality of life. There are four drugs in a class called cholinesterase inhibitor approved for symptomatic relief in the US:
- Donepezil (brand name Aricept)
- Alantamine (Reminyl)
- Rivastigmine (Exelon)
- Tacrine (Cognex).
A different kind of drug, memantine (Namenda), an NMDA receptor antagonist, may also be used, alone or in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
As with other types of dementia and neurodegenerative disease, a major part of therapy for patients with Alzheimer’s comes from the support given by healthcare workers to provide dementia quality-of-life care, which becomes more important as needs increase with declining independence.
There is a lot of research into risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, so there may be lifestyle measures we can take to potentially reduce our risk and enjoy a healthier life more generally. Medical News Today has a page compiling ideas from researchers on how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – including information about heart health, diet, exercise and keeping an active brain.
Read more about – 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease