Alzheimer’s Disease – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that gradually deteriorates thinking and memory abilities and the ability to perform even the most basic tasks. The majority of Alzheimer’s patients have their initial symptoms later in life. According to experts, around 55 million people in the world who are 65 or older have dementia, according to various estimates. 

The most prevalent type of dementia, Alzheimer’s, maybe a factor in 60–70% of cases. In today’s world, it is one of the primary causes of disability and dependency among older people and the seventh most significant cause of death among all diseases.

For those living with dementia, their caregivers, families, and society, dementia has physical, psychological, social, and economic effects.

How is the Brain Affected by Alzheimer’s Disease?

Scientists fully understand the intricate brain alterations associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Before symptoms show, changes in the brain may start ten years or earlier. The brain experiences harmful alterations at this early stage of Alzheimer’s, including aberrant protein buildups that result in amyloid plaques and tau tangles. 

Formerly healthy neurons stop working, lose connections to neighboring neurons, and eventually die. Numerous other intricate brain alterations also influence Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, two brain regions crucial for memory formation, appear to be the first areas of the brain to sustain injury. Additional brain regions are damaged and start to shrink as more neurons die. When Alzheimer’s reaches its most advanced stage, the damage is extensive, and the brain tissue has greatly diminished.

What are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

One of the initial indications of Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline is frequent memory issues. Some individuals with memory issues experience minor cognitive impairment (MCI). 

People with MCI experience more memory issues than is typical for their age. Nevertheless, their symptoms do not impact how they conduct their daily lives. MCI has also been associated with problems with movement and the sense of smell. Alzheimer’s disease is more likely to affect older MCI patients, but not all of them do. Some people might even resume their regular thinking. Individuals with Alzheimer’s experience different initial symptoms. 

Many people believe that the very early stages of the disease may be indicated by a deterioration in non-memory components of cognition, such as word finding, vision/spatial problems, and impaired thinking or judgment. 

To identify early abnormalities in the brains of persons with MCI and cognitively healthy individuals, researchers are examining biomarkers, which are biochemical indications of disease discovered in blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and brain imaging. They might be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s. Before these methods can be widely and regularly used to diagnose Alzheimer’s in a physician’s office, more study is required.

What are the Different Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Mild Alzheimer’s Disease

Memory loss and other cognitive problems get worse as Alzheimer’s gets worse. Wandering and getting lost can be a problem, as can having difficulties managing money and paying bills, asking questions repeatedly, taking longer to do everyday duties, and changing their personality and conduct. In this period, patients are frequently diagnosed.

Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease

This stage of the disease involves brain damage to the regions responsible for language, cognition, conscious thought, and sensory processing, including the capacity to recognize sounds and scents. 

As disorientation and memory loss worsens, it gets harder for people to identify their loved ones. They might be unable to adapt to new circumstances, learn new things, or perform complex chores like getting dressed. At this stage, individuals may act impulsively and have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.

Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

Plaques and tangles eventually cover the entire brain, and the brain’s tissue begins to diminish dramatically. People with advanced Alzheimer’s cannot communicate and rely on others to care for them. As the body slows down at the end of life, the person may spend most of the time in bed.

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

Scientists have made enormous strides toward understanding Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, and the impetus is still building. Even still, researchers are unsure of the exact causation of Alzheimer’s in most cases. A genetic mutation might be the root cause of early-onset Alzheimer’s in affected individuals.

A complicated succession of brain alterations may occur over many years, leading to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors are likely the root causes. Depending on the individual, each of these characteristics may play a different role in elevating or lowering the chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

Doctors employ various techniques and instruments to assess whether a patient with memory issues has Alzheimer’s. For an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, clinicians may:

  • Inquire about the person’s general health, prescription and over-the-counter medications, food, previous medical issues, capacity to carry out daily tasks, and any changes in behavior or personality, together with a family member or friend.
  • Tests for language, counting, problem-solving, and memory should be conducted.
  • Perform standard medical examinations, such as blood and urine testing, to look for further potential reasons for the issue.
  • To confirm an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or rule out other potential causes of symptoms, conduct brain scans using computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET).
  • These tests may be repeated to inform clinicians about how the patient’s memory and other cognitive abilities evolve.

People who experience difficulties with memory and thinking should consult their neurology doctor to determine whether the symptoms are caused by Alzheimer’s disease or something else, such as a stroke, tumor, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disturbances, medication side effects, an infection, or another form of dementia. Some of these ailments might be treatable and even curable.

If Alzheimer’s disease has been identified, starting treatment as soon as feasible in the disease course may assist in maintaining everyday functioning for a while. A timely diagnosis aids families in making plans. 

They can deal with monetary and legal issues and potential safety concerns, learn about living situations, and create support networks.

How is Alzheimer’s Treated?

Due to the complexity of the disease, it is doubtful that any medication or other treatment would completely cure everyone with Alzheimer’s. 

Alzheimer’s disease is currently being treated with an emphasis on managing behavioral symptoms, treating the underlying disease process, and assisting patients in maintaining mental function. 

What are the Medications to Maintain Mental Function in Alzheimer’s Disease?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several drugs to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms. The signs of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease are managed using donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. 

The rivastigmine patch, memantine, donepezil, and medicine that combines the two are all used to treat mild to severe Alzheimer’s symptoms. All these medications function by controlling neurotransmitters, substances that communicate between neurons. 

They might aid in treating some behavioral issues and symptom reduction. However, the underlying illness process is unaffected by these medications. They may be helpful for a brief period and are successful for some people but not everyone.

What are the Medications to Treat the Underlying Alzheimer’s Disease Process?

The FDA has approved aducanumab as the first Alzheimer’s disease disease-modifying medication. The medication helps to reduce the brain’s amyloid buildup. It might slow the disease’s course. It has not yet been demonstrated that it influences clinical outcomes, such as the development of dementia or cognitive decline.

A physician or neurologist would probably run tests, such as a PET scan or a cerebrospinal fluid analysis, to check for signs of amyloid plaques and determine if the patient is a good candidate for the proposed course of treatment.

How to Manage the Alzheimer’s Disease Behaviour?

Sleeplessness, wandering, agitation, anxiety, and hostility are typical behavioural signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are discovering the causes of these symptoms and researching new drug and non-drug management strategies.

According to research, addressing behavioural symptoms can help caregivers, and patients with Alzheimer’s disease feel more comfortable. Family and caregiver support for those with Alzheimer’s illness

Alzheimer’s care can be physically, emotionally, and financially expensive. 

It can be challenging to balance daily care responsibilities, family dynamics shifts, and choices regarding placement in a care facility.

One crucial long-term approach is to educate yourself on the illness. 

Programs that instruct families on how to handle complex behaviours and other caregiving issues, as well as the many stages of Alzheimer’s, might be helpful.

The expert Neurologists at Burjeel Hospital provide strategies to help carers manage the stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, including effective coping mechanisms, solid support systems, and respite care.

For instance, maintaining an active lifestyle has both psychological and physical advantages. For some carers, finding a support group to join is a crucial lifeline. These support groups give caregivers a place to obtain emotional support, voice worries, share experiences, and acquire ideas.

Our Expert Neurologist

Dr. Halprashanth D.S

Consultant Neurology

Years of Experience : 11

Nationality : India

Languages Known : English, Urdu, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil

Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi

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