Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that is the cause of the majority of dementia cases.
The disease begins slowly at the start, with the patient suffering from short-term memory loss and as the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation, mood swings, loss of motivation and behavioural issues.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and there is little knowledge about what actually causes or contributes to getting the disease.
1.9 million people died in 2015 due to dementia.
The disease is named after Alois Alzheimer the German psychiatrist and pathologist who first described the disease in 1906.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia which is an umbrella term used to describe progressive neurological disorders.
The disease is caused by plaques and tangles that form within neuron cells and outside of the neurons which damage them and cause them to die.
Electronic impulses in the brain can no longer be transferred along a line of neurons if some of them are dead.
The Hippocampus is a tiny tissue within the brain that is responsible for memory and this is the first area that is heavily affected when someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s
This is why one of the first symptoms is short-term memory loss which can be mistaken for normal effects of ageing.
Long-term memories may stay intact as they are less associated with the Hippocampus and more with other parts of the brain.
So people suffering from Alzheimer’s may still possess memories and knowledge about things that happened a long time ago and may not be able to remember what they have just said.
Over time the patient’s brain will shrink due to the effects of the disease and their symptoms will become more pronounced and more serious.
There were 29.8 million people worldwide with Alzheimer’s in 2015.
The disease most commonly affects people over 65, although 4-5% of cases are early-onset Alzheimer’s which appears in younger people.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
Symptoms at the very beginning of the disease are short-term memory loss, difficulty remembering learned facts or inability to acquire new information.
These symptoms of Alzheimer’s in its infancy can be attributed to stress or ageing.
However, Alzheimer’s can be noticed from detailed neuropsychological testing up to eight years before the person will meet the clinical criteria for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Also, planning, attentiveness, and abstract thinking can be apparent in the infancy of the disease.
Throughout the disease, right from the early stages, the person can be apathetic, meaning they will feel little emotion.
The patient will be irritable at the beginning.
Symptoms progress in the early stages to include language impairments, problems with perception and learned motor movements.
As the disease progress, the person may lose the ability to expressive themselves properly as they find it hard to recall vocabulary.
Reading and writing skills are progressively lost and the person may fail to recognise close relatives.
At this point any long-term memories that were previously still intact become fragmented.
The person will have behavioural and psychiatric changes, they may be increasingly confused and restless.
In the final stages of the disease, the patient would be completely dependent on whoever is caring for them.
They can be unable to speak properly or at all but they can still comprehend and return emotional signals.
A person will not actually die from Alzheimer’s directly but the cause of death is often an outside illness such as pneumonia, infections or blood clots.
What is Alzheimer’s caused by?
The cause of the disease is mostly unknown but in some very rare cases, it is attributed to genetics.
Head injuries, depression or hypertension are also thought to play some part in causing Alzheimer’s.
There are theories that mental and physical exercise and avoiding obesity may decrease the risk of getting Alzheimer’s but the evidence to support this idea is not concrete.
What are the treatments for Alzheimer’s?
There are currently no treatments to cure Alzheimer’s, and there are no treatments that slow down the progression of the disease.
There are some medications that can be taken that temporarily improve the symptoms of the disease.
Exercises can potentially help the patient with carrying out daily activities.