A progressive brain disease with loss of recent memory, confusion and eventually dementia. It’s standard to become slightly forgetful with increasing age, but serious damage of brief¬term recollection may be an indication of Alzheimer’s disease, in which brain cells gradually degenerate and deposits of an abnormal protein develop in the brain. Consequently the brain tissue shrinks, with progressive loss of mental abilities, called dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and the fourth commonest cause of death in the West. In the united kingdom, Alzheimer’s disease affects about 7 in 100 individuals by age 65 and 3 in 10 individuals by age 85.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
The underlying cause is unknown, although genetic factors are almost certainly included. Studies have found that 15 in 100 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have a parent changed by the illness. In girls, deficiency of oestrogen after the menopause likely plays a part and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is recommended to prevent the start of Alzheimer’s.
Personality, thought, emotion and foresight reside somewhere within the billions of cells of the brain and their complex intertwinings. Alzheimer’s disease is the result of the degeneration of these interconnections. Instead of being orderly the connections become tangled; as the tangling increases so personality decreases. Evidence is growing that there is a defect in the acetylcholine system, one of the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain.
A number of sub-variants of dementia are recognised, for example Lewy body dementia, but, as yet, they can only be differentiated post-mortem. Premature dementia – before the age of 60 should be investigated for the uncommon but treatable disorders which can cause a similar picture such as a blood clot on the brain or a slow-growing brain tumour.
There is a very small hereditary risk factor in people with dementia which begins before the age of 60. However, even among the elderly only a minority are affected; about 80% of the over 80s have no particular problems. Alzheimer’s affects 2-3% of people aged between 65 and 75.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
The first symptom is generally forgetfulness. The standard deterioration of memory occurring in old age becomes considerably more serious and starts to influence intellectual capacity. Memory loss is eventually accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- damage of memory, especially when attempting to remember recent events
- slow decline of reason, changing reasoning and comprehension
- trouble participating in dialogue
- reduced vocabulary
- mental outbursts
- drifting and restlessness
- negligence of personal hygiene
- inferior focus
- trouble understanding both written and spoken language
- rambling and becoming lost, even in familiar environment.
In the early phases of the disease folks know they have become more forgetful. This can result in depression and anxiety. Cher time, the present symptoms may get worse and added symptoms may develop, including:
- slow motions and unsteadiness when walking
- fast mood swings from happiness to tearfulness
- personality changes, aggression and feelings of persecution.
Occasionally individuals find it hard to sleep and become uneasy at night. After several years, most individuals with the disorder cannot look after themselves and want full time attention.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
New evaluations can help in the early identification of Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, serious depression may mimic dementia – so called pseudodementia.
Evaluations may be ordered to exclude other potential causes of dementia. As an example, blood tests may be carried out to assess for vitamin B deficiencies. Imaging tests for example CT scan or MRI may be done to show up shrinkage of the brain and exclude other brain disorders, including subdural haemorrhage or a brain tumour.
An evaluation of mental ability, including memory and writing evaluations, may be done to ascertain the severity of the dementia.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
It is important to exclude treatable causes by blood tests, used to detect severe anaemia, thyroid disease and syphilis. A brain scan may exclude blood clots or brain tumours. Otherwise the diagnosis rests on showing loss of short-term memory plus confusion, but all in clear consciousness, that is the sufferer is not drowsy or comatose. Drugs should be reviewed in case they are adding to confusion.
As yet, there is no recognized treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. A couple of drugs claim to delay deterioration in patients but there is little supportive evidence for this so far. Some of the symptoms that are connected with Alzheimer’s disease, like depression and sleep difficulties, can be alleviated by antidepressant drugs. Someone who’s agitated may be given a sedative drug to relax them. In girls, HRT should be attempted or if possible chosen from the beginning of the menopause as a preventative.
Eventually, full time attention will likely be required either at home or in a nursing home. Caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease is generally trying and many carers want practical and psychological support, particularly when the affected individual becomes hostile and competitive. Support groups can help individuals cope with caring for an aged relative with the disorder. Most individuals with Alzheimer’s disease live for 5-10 years from
What can be done?
People with Alzheimer’s should be kept stimulated by talking, reading and going out. It is important to keep them aware of time and place by talking about where they live and what they do each day. A regular schedule helps to root people in whatever remains of their appreciation of events. Many people get by, despite being quietly demented, while there is a routine and someone to keep an eye on them. This precarious hold on reality can be broken by moving into unfamiliar surroundings, loss of a companion who looked after them or other illness. Ultimately, people may need constant nursing care to help with all aspects of daily life. Agitation and physically wandering can be major problems, often treatable only by sedation.
People suffering Alzheimer’s can live long after the onset of their illness, and usually die of an unrelated illness although chest infections are a common cause of death.
Complementary approaches cannot reverse Alzheimer’s disease. A Western herbalist might be able to help alleviate symptoms of the disease through the controlled use of ginkgo. Massage, especially when combined with aromatherapy, can offer support. An experienced reflexologist might be able to delay the progression of the disease. Ayurveda can offer oral preparations, along with oil baths to the head. Carers must ensure detoxification programmes are followed. Tai chi/chi kung can be beneficial in the earliest stages of the disease.
In case you are taking care of someone with dementia, you have to balance their needs with your own. In the early phases, it’s important to enable the individual to stay as independent and active as possible. As the illness progresses, there are several measures you’ll be able to choose to help compensate for the man’s failing memory, loss of judgement and unpredictable behavior.
- Put up a bulletin board with a list of stuff that have to be done during every day.
- If roaming is an issue, get the man to wear a badge with your contact details and phone number on it.
- Place notes around the house to help the individual remember to turn off appliances.
- Consider installing bathroom help to make washing easier.
- Strive to be patient – it’s common for people who have dementia to have frequent mood changes.
- Give yourself a rest whenever you can by locating someone who can help for several hours, thus inquire local respite care.
- Join a carers’ support group and inquire day centers or respite care.