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Alzheimer’s Disease Causes, Stages and Treatment

Alzheimer’s disease causes the slow progressive neurological disorder which impacts the memory and other cognitive mental functions like thinking and reasoning skills. It is the most common form of neurodegenerative dementia which starts very slowly and steadily gets worse in a progressive manner. This memory-loss causing brain disease increases after the age of 70 and can be seen in almost 50% of persons over the age 80. In Alzheimer, brain cells degenerate and eventually die causing the impairment of memory.
As of now, no medications and strategies have surfaced strongly which can cure the disease but researchers and neurosurgeons have come up with medications/treatment that may temporarily give relief from the acute symptoms or sometimes maximize the mental function for a little longer.

Alzheimer’s Disease Types

Nearly all the effects of the disease are similar, it is classified into two types depending on the onset of the disease:

  • Early Onset: This happens to people who are below the age of 65 and in their 40s or 50s when the disease is diagnosed. People having Down syndrome are more prone to the Early Onset of the disease.
  • Late Onset: This is the most common type which occurs after the age of 65.
    In a majority of the above types of Alzheimer’s, however, no specific cause responsible for the degeneration of the brain cells has yet been identified. But scientists do know the cause behind the symptoms of the disease, it seems to occur due to the damage of various nerves.

Alzheimer’s Disease Causes

Alzheimer’s disease causes a neurodegenerative type of dementia, damage and death of brain cells take place very progressively, leaving the brain with very fewer cells and nerve connections. Degeneration and death of brain cells are responsible for brain shrinkage. Due to this shrinkage, when Alzheimer’s tissue is examined through autopsy, very tiny inclusions or abnormalities in the nerve tissue are found called Plaques and Tangles.

  • Plaques: This Alzheimer’s disease causes are the protein deposits, also called beta-amyloid which build up in the brain, mainly responsible for the interference in cell-to-cell communication. These are deposited outside the brain cells and is the prime-suspect for this neurodegenerative dementia.
  • Tangles: Also called as neurofibrillary tangles are twisted fibres of protein; tau build up inside cells. These Alzheimer’s disease causes proteins are responsible for carrying nutrients inside the brain and when fibres of tau protein tangles inside brain cells, transportation of nutrients are affected causing to degeneration and death of brain cells.

Reason for Alzheimer’s disease causes includes Genetic causes, Head injuries, Depression, Hypertension and Plaque in brain

Researchers are trying to find out how these abnormalities are developed so that their cure and prevention can be determined.

Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors

As the reason for these nerve changes or protein abnormalities is not established yet, several different risk factors are believed to be involved:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Family history
  • Genetic disorder
  • History of a severe head injury
  • Vascular disease
  • Ageing
  • Insulin resistance
  • Down’s Syndrome
  • Lifestyle and heart health

Symptoms of Alzheimer Disease

Symptoms of this brain disease can be diagnosed at any stage of the disease. The nature of the signs and symptoms can be very complex sometimes for the patient or his family. To be able to start initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, doctors first need to be confirmed about dementia.

At first, the patient faces only the mild symptoms like confusion or forgetfulness, but slowly, the recent memories start to wash off. The acute symptoms of the disease typically develop quite slowly.

The types of behaviour change vary from person to person and symptoms commonly experienced are:

Impairment of memory:

  • Worsened ability to grasp new information
  • Asking repetitive questions or conversation
  • Often forgetting events
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Often misplacing possessions

Cognitive decline in thinking and reasoning:

  • Difficulty in multitasking
  • Difficulty in making complex plans or strategies
  • Inability in financial management
  • Trouble in focusing

Worsened ability to speak, read and write:

  • Difficulty in finding right words
  • Hesitation while speaking
  • Stammering
  • Spelling errors
  • Trouble communicating

Changes in personality behaviour:
The disease also affects the way you feel and act. The patient may experience:

  • Mood Swings
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of interest or motivation
  • Feeling disoriented

Changes caused due to this disease can be proven very difficult family member or friends as the condition of the patient deteriorates and sometimes they won’t recognize them.

Alzheimer’s Disease Complications

A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’ disease or dementia may not be able to:

  • Comprehend the type of pain he/she is experiencing
  • Notice signs and symptoms
  • Religiously follow a prescribed treatment plan

As a person progresses to its last stage, there is an impairment in the physical functions as well along with mental functions:

  • Swallowing
  • Bowel or bladder control
  • Balance
  • Bone density problems

Difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Typical Age-Related Changes

Signs of Alzheimer’s / Dementia Typical Age-Related Changes
Poor judgment and decision-making Making a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the season Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later
Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time

Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis

Due to the vast similarity between the Alzheimer’s and age-related symptoms, many people fail to acknowledge them and get it diagnose on time. So, if a person is falling under any category of the risk factors, he/she should not delay the consultation with the doctor. Based on the signs and symptoms along with the medical history of the patient, the health care professional will perform some tests to diagnose the disease. As many factors are involved in the cause of the disease, there is no single test to determine the Alzheimer. It needs a full assessment of patient’s medical history to determine the possible causes.

Alzheimer's disease causes

To obtain a conclusive diagnosis, various tests need to be performed:

  • Blood and urine test
  • Physical and Neurological Examination
  • Brain scans like CT scan, MRI( Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography)
  • Mental Status Assessment
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid: It is done on early onset in which a spinal fluid is tested

Alzheimer’s Disease Future Diagnostic Tests

Research is going on to develop new diagnostic tools which can determine the disease for certain. These will be mainly used for the screening of the disease, mean before the symptoms shows.

  • Additional approaches to brain scan
  • More sensitive test for mental abilities
  • Measurement of protein and its patterns in blood or spinal fluids

Alzheimer’s Disease Stages

Once all the diagnostic tests are finished and the neurologist doctor is certain of the Alzheimer’s, he carries out further tests to determine the extent of the disease based on which, treatment plans are discussed.

Alzheimer’s progression can be further divided into three stages:

  • Preclinical: It is the stage when no particular signs or symptoms are noticed.
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment: In this, symptoms may be worse than what might be expected of the age but not severe to be declared as dementia
  • Dementia: In this stage, the patient develops severe memory loss, especially of recent memories

Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment

There are various Alzheimer’s disease causes, however, no permanent cure for this type of dementia for now but the treatment can manage the symptoms of the disease for as long as possible. Treatment/medications are decided after seeing all the diagnostic reports, Alzheimer’s disease stages and the suitable need of the patient.

  • Drugs: There are two types of drugs currently used for the treatment of cognitive symptoms:
    • Cholinesterase Inhibitors: These are used to boost cell-to-cell communication levels by providing a neurotransmitter; acetylcholine which is absent in the brain due to the disease. Side effects of these are nausea, diarrhoea, sleep disturbances etc.
    • Memantine: This slows down the progression of symptoms. It is sometimes used in the combination of the cholinesterase inhibitor. Its side effects are a headache, dizziness and constipation.
  • Supportive Environment: Rather than focusing on lost abilities, family members should create a supportive environment around the patient and focus on his abilities that do remain. Also, some safety measures or steps must be taken to support the patient’s sense of well-being.
  • Alternative medicine: There are various herbal mixtures and supplements that may prevent or delay Alzheimer.
    • Omega-3 fatty acid: it may help in delay of cognitive decline
    • Curcumin: It is derived from turmeric and has anti-inflammatory properties which may be helpful for a chemical process in the brain.
    • Vitamin E: Although it is not proven to cure or prevent the disease but it may delay the progression of the disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

Although there are no proven ways to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Regular exercise may have a healthy effect on brain health and may slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.