Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the world today. Nearly half of all people over the age of 85 suffer from this disorder, though it is not a normal part of aging. Categorized by the gradual loss of intellectual and social abilities that are severe enough to impact daily living, Alzheimer’s is generally caused by the slow deterioration of brain tissue. Nerve cells in the brain die off as well, making transmission of brain signals difficult.
Alzheimer's disease may be difficult to detect at first. Forgetfulness and occasional loss of focus are symptoms we all assume are part of normal aging. As the disease progresses and more and more brain cells begin to die off, the symptoms become worse and worse. Several early warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's are:
- Short-term memory loss
- Problems with motor skills and coordination
- Unpredictable and rapid mood swings
- Difficulty with language
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty performing familiar, simple tasks
- Issues with planning and managing
- Problems with abstract thinking
- Loss of judgment
- Personality changes (in addition to mood swings: depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, social withdrawal, distrust in others and increased stubbornness)
In the later stages of Alzheimer's, these symptoms become so severe that the individual needs constant care and attention. In the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, they become unable to make their own meals, have difficulty maintaining personal hygiene and begin to wander. In the latter stages, they are unable to walk, communicate and recognize people, are unable to smile and cannot swallow or eat.
Every five years after the age of 65, the number of people with Alzheimer's doubles. There are a number of causes that are linked with Alzheimer's that include obesity, genetics and neuron damage. Being obese increases the risks of developing Alzheimer's. The high insulin levels found in those who suffer from obesity is linked with Alzheimer's. In addition, those who have diabetes are also at a high risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life. Genetics aren’t everything but many of our health issues are inherited. If immediate family members have Alzheimer's, there is an increased risk that you may develop the disease later in life.
Doctors can generally diagnose 90 percent of Alzheimer’s cases. Similar to the testing used in determining dementia, testing for Alzheimer’s includes lab tests, a mental exam, neurological testing and brain scans. Lab tests such as blood tests are used to rule out potential causes that are treatable such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies. Mental exams require the patient to answer questions about their medical history and perform tasks such as counting and drawing specific things to determine the level of cognition. Neurological exams include MRIs, CT and PET scans and are used to rule out brain tumors, blood clots and bleeding as a cause for the Alzheimer-like symptoms.
Being that Alzheimer's is a form of dementia, there is no way to reverse it but there are a number of treatments that can make daily functioning easier for the patient and caregivers and can help ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Depending on the age, level of severity of the disease and the patient’s preference, there are a number of prescriptions that can be used. Drugs that increase chemicals in the brain used in memory and other mental functions are used in all forms of dementia. Preventative measures are the best way to help lessen the odds of developing Alzheimer’s which include, exercise, proper nutrition and brain exercises.