Alzheimer’s Disease

An overview of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the neural system characterized by death of brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, thinking, behavior and memory of the patient are affected. Studies by the Alzheimer’s Association have shown that at least 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease occurs more commonly in people older than 65 years of age.  However, it may occur early in some persons between 40 to 50 years of age.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that worsens with time. Studies have shown that it is the number 6 cause of death in the United States. Patients have at least 4 to 20 years to live after diagnosis. Prognosis can be improved if a diagnosis is done early and treatment is done on time.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Symptoms of AD at the onset may be mild and subtle. It may be so subtle that the patient rarely notices a change in his or her behavior and thinking. In the early stage of the disease, it will be a bit difficult to recall new information. The reason for this is that the disease often begins to impact on regions of the brain responsible for storage of new information. The patient may find himself repeating questions, forgetting important appointments or conversations, or misplacing objects such as car keys.

Normally, occasional memory loss is considered a part of the aging process, so forgetfulness may not necessarily be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. However, you will have to consult your physician if the condition deteriorates.

Warning signs that should not be ignored include:

  • Inability to retrace steps and misplacing objects
  • Memory loss that interferes with your daily activities (inability to drive etc.)
  • Difficulty in solving a problem or planning
  • Taking a very long time to accomplish simple tasks
  • Losing track of time
  • Inability to distinguish colors of determine distance
  • Difficulty initiating or following a conversation
  • Inability to make sound decisions
  • Increased anxiety alongside changes in mood and personality

Withdrawing from social gatherings and activities.

Moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease usually spreads to other regions of the brain as time goes on. Usually, associates of the patient may observe the signs and symptoms before the patient. Changes that may be observed include thinking and behavior. At times, we find it difficult to recognize memory impairments in ourselves. However, as the disease progresses, the patient would begin to recognize the symptoms, such as shorter attention span and confusion. As more of the brain cells die, the patient will begin to exhibit signs of moderate Alzheimer’s disease such as:

  • Difficulty recognizing friends and loved ones
  • Inability to read, work with figures, write or use language
  • Inability to think logically or organize one’s thoughts
  • Inability to cope with unexpected situations or learn new tasks
  • Inappropriate outbursts of anger
  • Occasional twitch of the muscles, and repetitive movement or statements
  • Problems with motor functions such as setting a table or getting out of a chair
  • Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia or suspiciousness, irritability.
  • Exacerbation of behavioral symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, wandering, restlessness, and tearfulness, especially late in the afternoon or in the evenings
  • Inability to control one’s impulses

Severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

When the disease deteriorate to the severe stage, one will notice tangles and brain plaques on imaging tests of the brain. Both are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the final stage of the disease. At this stage, patients are no longer in control of physical functions and depend solely on others for care. Sleep occurs frequently while communication with loved ones deteriorates.

Other symptoms associated with severe Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Inability to control the bladder or the bowel
  • Weight loss
  • Seizures
  • Infections of the skin
  • Grunting, groaning or moaning
  • Difficulty swallowing

Because of the loss of physical function, people with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease may experience some complications. Inability to swallow may result in inhaling fluids into the lungs. This places the patient at risk of pneumonia. The patient may also suffer from dehydration and malnutrition. Inability to move also increases the risk of bedsores.

Health conditions that share similar symptoms with Alzheimer’s

Credit: Healthline

There are other causes of dementia with symptoms similar to AD. A doctor conducts physical and neurological examinations and uses brain imaging technology to diagnose or rule out AD. The following list of neurodegenerative diseases can mimic AD:

  • Parkinson’s disease with dementia leads to shaking and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination.
  • Vascular dementia occurs from impaired blood flow to the brain and leads to problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, and memory.
  • Frontotemporal lobar degeneration affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are associated with personality, behavior, and language.
  • Frontotemporal dementia affects the temporal and frontal lobes that influence decision-making, behavioral control, emotion, and language.
  • Pick’s disease is a rare and permanent form of dementia similar to AD except it often affects only certain brain areas.
  • Supranuclear palsy is a rare brain disorder that causes serious and progressive problems with control of gait and balance, complex eye movement, and thinking problems.
  • Corticobasal degeneration occurs when areas of your brain shrink and nerve cells die over time. The result is growing difficulty moving on one or both sides of your body.

Other possible causes of dementia include:

  • medication side effects
  • depression
  • vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • chronic alcoholism
  • certain tumors or infections of the brain
  • blood clots in or on the brain
  • metabolic imbalances, including thyroid, kidney, and liver disorders

Outlook

Talk to a doctor if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of AD. Because symptoms worsen over time, it’s important to recognize the possibility of AD. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and assess whether symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe.

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