What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer disease is one of the most common types of brain disorder that causes the loss of social and intellectual skills. In Alzheimer's disease, the brain cells start to die, causing a steady decline in one's mental capabilities.
In its initial stages, patients have trouble remembering and face mild confusions however in its more severe stages patients even forget more important information such as the important loved ones or even themselves.
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that continues to get worse as time passes. The progression of Alzheimer's disease can be broken down into five basic stages that we will review further in this article.
Alzheimer' disease accounts for 65 percent to 75 percent of dementia cases. So the short answer to the question what is Alzheimer's disease is simple, a disease that affects the short term and long term memory and mental functionality of one's brain.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's is one of those diseases on which extensive research still continues as no specific cause of this disease has been identified. However, taking into consideration the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, scientists believe that this disease is caused by a combination of various factors. These factors include lifestyle, genetics, age, gender, and environmental factors1.
Alzheimer's disease leads to the shrinkage of the brain. After examination of various Alzheimer's disease patients scientist are able to identify the abnormality within the brain cell. There are two types of flaws formed in the brain cell;
- Neurofibrillary Tangles: These are the twisted fibers inside the cells that keep nutrients and other important particles from traveling from one part of the cell to another.
- Beta-amyloid plaques: These are clumps of protein that are sticky in nature, and they build up between nerve cells, in a healthy brain they are supposed to break down however in this disease they start to form a cluster.
Both Plaques and Tangles interfere and lead to a failure in the transportation system between cells causing the cells to expire and the brain to shrink which effects speech, memory and cause all other symptoms.
Increasing age is one of the greatest known risk factors for Alzheimer's. Increased age affects the rate of dementia. For most people, it starts to go up after the age of 60.
- Family History
Having someone in your family tree that already has this disease increases the risk. If a first-degree relative has this degree, then the risks are pretty much high. Scientists have identified 3 genes that guarantee a person inheriting them is likely to develop Alzheimer's. Other genetic aspects of Alzheimer's among family chains remain unidentified.
- Down Syndrome
Down syndrome is a condition where individuals have an extra chromosome in each cell, instead of having 46 chromosomes they have 47. Many people with Down syndrome develop this disease. Alzheimer's symptoms tend to appear 10 to 20 years earlier in people with Down syndrome. An increased chromosome that causes Down syndrome increases the risk of Alzheimer's.
As per research females seem to more likely develop Alzheimer's disease than males which could be due to the fact that women live longer than men.
- Head Injuries
People with past head traumas seem to have a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease however much research is still required to justify head injuries as a cause of Alzheimer's disease.
There are various lifestyle factors that are associated with cardiovascular diseases, which is a general term for conditions affecting blood vessels or heart. These habits increase the risk of getting Alzheimer's. These lifestyle factors include smoking, obesity2, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. These Cardiovascular diseases can increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
- Other Factors
There are various other researches going on regarding the causes of Alzheimer's, however, some other factors that can be linked to Alzheimer's include hearing loss, untreated depression, loneliness, social isolation, a sedentary lifestyle, etc. However much research is yet needed regarding these causes.
Alzheimer's symptoms and signs
As discussed earlier, Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease and the rate at which these symptoms progress is different for each individual, so we have divided the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease into 3 basic stages.
- Early Stage
In the early stages, the main difficulty that Alzheimer's patients face is memory lapses. One of the most common Alzheimer's disease symptoms is forgetting newly learned information. Someone with Alzheimer's disease is most likely to:
- Forget events or conversations
- Misplace items
- Have troubling identifying objects
- Have trouble picking vocabulary
- Ask repetitive questions
- Have trouble making decisions
- Become less flexible
There are various other Alzheimer's disease symptoms such as mood swings or being reluctant to new experiences or increased anxiety.
- Middle Stage symptoms
As Alzheimer's starts to develop, these problems are likely to worsen.
Patients with Alzheimer's may struggle remembering the names of their family and friends and even struggle to recognize them. Other symptoms include impulsive behavior, disturbed sleep, and repetition.
- Later Stage
In later stages, the symptoms become very severe and distressing. Delusions and hallucinations become very common and worsen as the conditions grow.
Sometimes patients with this disease may get violent and demanding and may start to become suspicious of those around them.
As for now, there is no exact cure for this disease. Once the person starts to show signs and symptoms of memory loss, learning problem and communication problems there aren't any treatments that can fully nullify them. However, medicines are available that help slows down the process.
These medicines make sure that the rate at which brain cells start to deteriorate is slowed down and help the brain work longer for you.
Still, it is important that you talk to your doctor regarding the medication process as some medications can even worsen the rate at which your brain works leading to rapid growth in brain cell death.
- Brain Blogger - Environmental Factors in Development of Alzheimer's Disease
- Bright Focus Foundation - Is Weight a Risk Factor for Alzheimer's Disease?