Mediconnect Awareness Mission: World Alzheimer’s Day: September 21 Part I

What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease – Neurological Disorder  is a gradual disease that leads to destruction of memory along with other important mental functions. One of the prime reasons of dementia, it is a group of brain disorders that lead to loss of social skills and intellect. As the disease gets advanced, it can also create interference in daily life. Because of this problem, brain cells as well as their in-between connection get degenerated and slow withers away completely leading to loss of memory. Medication and management strategy helps in the improvement of the symptoms and lessening its effect.

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Signs and Symptoms

Initially, the only noticeable sign is confusion and forgetfulness. But gradually, the memory of a patient goes away completely with your recent memory getting completely washed away. The level of the heightening of the signs varies in individuals.  One faces difficulty in organizing his thoughts and remembering things, which he may not realize but is noticed by his co-workers, family and friends. Alzheimer’s leads to trouble with:

Memory

Each one of us experiences infrequent memory lapses but Alzheimer’s results in the regular loss of memory that worsens with time, resulting in problem with your daily activities, forgetfulness about what day it is, what is the current situation of his life etc. A patient:

  • Repeats his questions and statements again and again and does not even realize it
  • Does not remember events or conversations made
  • Misplaces his possessions regularly and keeps them unfounded locations
  • Starts forgetting the name of his family members and daily objects slowly
  • Starts misinterpreting spatial relationships

Speaking, reading and writing

A patient with Alzheimer’s faces difficulty in searching for a right kind of word or an object or in expressing his thoughts. Slowly his ability to read and write also becomes low.

Reasoning ability

A person faces problems in reasoning, recognizing and concentrating on things that involves numbers like managing finances, checkbooks and paying his bills.

Taking decisions

Day-to-day things like driving and cooking becomes extremely difficult and challenging for him.

Problem in planning and performing known tasks

A daily activity that involves a routine like planning, cooking, playing, becomes a complete challenge for him. Such a person may slowly forget basic tasks like bathing and dressing.

Changes in personality

Changes in the brain can bring changes in one’s personality and behavior. A person with Alzheimer’s may have to fight delusions, depression, mood swings, changes in sleeping habits, social withdrawal and aggressiveness.

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Causes

It is believed that a grouping of environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors lead to Alzheimer’s, affecting the brain gradually. Although there are no proven causes of this disease but it is sure that they affect the brain, damaging and killing brain cells. When more and more brain cells die, it leads to shrinkage of the brain.

As more and more brain cells die, Alzheimer’s leads to significant brain shrinkage. Following 2 types of abnormalities are noticed by the doctors when they examine Alzheimer’s brain tissue under the microscope:

Plaques – These protein- clumps, called beta-amyloid cause harm to brain cells and lead to their destruction in many ways such as creating a problem in cell-to-cell communication.
Tangles – For normal structuring and functioning of a protein in the brain, called tau, the brain cells use an internal support and transportation system so that they can carry essential materials Because of Alzheimer’s, the threads of tau get twist abnormally inside brain cells, resulting in a failed transport system leading to death of the brain cells.

Risk Factors

1.  Age
Increasing age undoubtedly is the biggest known risk factor when one reaches the age of 65. Around half of those who are more than 85 years of age suffer from Alzheimer’s. However people with rare genetic changes show signs as early as in their 40’s or 50’s.

2. Family history
Risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s increasing if your first-degree relative has it.

3. Sex
It is believed that since women live longer, their chances of developing this disease are more likely.

4. MCI

Anyone who is suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and experience memory-related problems, they are at greater risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s with age.

5. Head trauma

People who have suffered from a severe head trauma or had such experiences repeatedly are at a greater risk.

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Lifestyle factors

According to some evidences, factors leading to heart problems may also lead to Alzheimer’s. Factors include lack of social engagement, high cholesterol and blood pressure, lack of exercise and less intake of fruits and vegetables.

Lifelong mental and social engagement

According to studies, those who are involved in lifelong involved in mental and social activities, they are not really at risk.

Stages

Following are the stages so as to how the course of the disease may flow but it is not necessary that everyone will show similar signs and will progress in the same manner. Stages can also overlap each other and depend on individuals:

Stage 1: No impairment

In the first stage, the functioning is normal and a person does not experience any memory-related problems.

Stage 2: Very placid cognitive decline

At the second stage, the person may experience memory lapses such as forgetting the location of everyday objects. Recognizing the symptoms of dementia is not likely.

Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline

This is an early stage when diagnosis becomes possible in some. Even your loved ones and co-workers may start noticing one’s difficulties. The doctor may be in a position to detect the problem during a detailed medical interview. A person faces problem in finding the right words, misplacing his valuables, faces problem in planning and remembering names.

Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline

This is the stage when with a proper medical interview, several signs can be sorted-out such as forgetting recent memories or sometimes personal history, facing difficulty in taking-up number-related problem, doing planning or becoming very withdrawn.

Stage 5: Moderately serious cognitive decline

At this point, one starts forgetting his daily activities, is not able to remember his own contact number or address or his school, feels confused, numbers become a major problem for him, needs assistance in picking his clothes for an occasion but still remember details about their family.

Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline

Memory-loss starts worsening; there are changes in personality at this stage and one needs assistance in doing daily chores. There may be changes in his sleeping patterns, he may only remember his name, may start to forget the name of his family remembers and just remembers their faces. Such a person may experience frequent urge to go to the toilet. There may be behavioral changes.

Stage 7: Very severe cognitive decline

This is the last stage, when a person loses his ability to react to any situation or to make a conversation or control his movements.  This is the stage when he may need help even in using the toilet or eating. His reflexes may become abnormal, he may face problem in swallowing and his muscles may become rigid.

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Diagnosis

When you visit your doctor, he may want to know about the following sights such as problem in speech, forgetfulness, any difficulty with daily chores or change in behavior.

Similar conditions

The signs of Alzheimer’s can be quite similar to other health conditions such as thyroid, any infection, deficiency of a vitamin, depression or a brain tumor.

Tests

There are no reliable tests for Alzheimer’s, so when other conditions are ruled out, this problem can be confirmed. When blood tests and physical examinations rule put any other medical conditions, there is a possibility of Alzheimer’s. There is any sign of this disease; a brain scan can be done to check there are any changes in your brain. The test may include a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Referral

The doctor may refer the patient to a specialist such as a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist, a healthcare professional or a qualified medical doctor so that he gets assistance in diagnosis and conducting tasks related to thinking and memory skills.

Screening questionnaires

The help of screening questionnaire can also be taken to detect the extent of the disease, as this may prove to be helpful in the full individual assessment and determining the necessary treatment.

Confirmed diagnosis

There may be a requirement of a number of appointments with the doctor and the specialist before Alzheimer’s disease is confirmed.

In Part II of this blog, you will get information about treatments, care, facts and other important things related to Alzheimer’s. Stay glued..

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