Alzheimer’s: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that causes brain cells to deteriorate and die. As the disease progresses, it begins to affect the person’s memory and cognitive function. Whilst the disease typically occurs in older people, it has been diagnosed in patients under the age of 40 (known as early-onset dementia).

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Scientists have thus far not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, but have found several factors that could potentially increase the risk of developing it. Below are some of the risk factors associated with the condition:

Age: Studies have shown that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after a person reaches 65.

Gender: Women generally live longer than men which make them more prone to developing Alzheimer’s.

Family history: People with a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s are far more likely to develop the disease themselves.

Health history: People suffering from other health problem such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are more likely to develop this condition. Smokers are also at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

The most common symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease:

Gradual loss of memory is one of the early symptoms prevalent in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Other symptoms include wandering, depression, dramatic changes in mood, social withdrawal and changes in sleeping habits.

What are the potential complications of Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease can increase in severity if left untreated. People with the condition can often have difficulty swallowing. As a result, food may get into the lungs which can lead to pneumonia. Urinary incontinence is also common among Alzheimer’s patients, as are serious injuries from falls.

How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed?

A doctor will perform tests that determine a patient’s coordination, balance, muscle tone, strength and reflexes. Another important part of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is neuropsychological testing, whichprovides details of mental function compared to other people of the same age. A CT or an MRI scan may also be necessary in order to get a better view of the brain.

What treatment options are there available?

Whilst Alzheimer’s is a serious and frustrating condition, there are fortunately many treatment options available. Some doctors will prescribe a class of medications called Cholinesterase inhibitors, which work by increasing the communication between brain cells.Memantine (Namenda) is another commonly prescribed medication to treat Alzheimer’s disease, also effective at increasing the communication between cells.

Exercise can also be of enormous benefit to those with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that approximately 30 minutes of exercise each day can help improve cognitive function, as can a healthy and varied diet. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that help promote brain health.

Nutrients found in fish oil such as Omega 3 have also been shown to improve cognitive function. The easiest way to get the recommended intake of Omega 3 fatty acids is to eat two-three servings of fish per week. Vegetarians or those who do not like fish can take a supplement. Additionally, researchers have discovered that engaging in intellectually-stimulating activities can help preserve cognitive functioning.Care homes offer such opportunities on a regular basis.