Alzheimer’s disease is one of the commonest illnesses globally and the commonest type of dementia in the UK, affecting six in every ten people with dementia. Alzheimer’s is an incurable condition characterized by memory loss and reduced brain function.
It is only right that people be informed and educated about a condition this serious and prevalent in the UK. This article will walk you through the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and how to live with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the commonest type of dementia in the UK. Dementia is a syndrome marked with declining brain function, usually affecting memory, cognitive function, and other mental functions.
Alzheimer’s is prevalent among people over 65. This does not mean it cannot affect younger people too, it can, but it very rarely does. When Alzheimer’s affects people under the age of 65, it is called early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, implying that symptoms worsen over time. In the early stages of this condition, dementia symptoms may be mild, but symptoms worsen as the more damage is done to the brain by the disease. There is no fixed rate of progression for Alzheimer’s. It usually varies, but averagely, people with Alzheimer’s rarely live for more than eight years after the onset of symptoms.
There are instances where people have more than one type of dementia. They may have Alzheimer’s with another type of dementia, like vascular dementia, and in such cases, the condition is referred to as mixed dementia.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
As earlier mentioned, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s worsen with time. The more damage is done to the brain, the worse the symptoms.
The first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. It is typically minor at first, starting with the person forgetting recent events, faces, and conversations. The person may also forget places and names of objects. Over time, as the condition worsens, memory loss becomes more pronounced and severe. It is worth noting, however, that Alzheimer’s is not the only cause of memory loss. There are many times people have memory loss problems as they age without actually having Alzheimer’s. The sure-fire way to confirm that the memory loss is caused by Alzheimer’s is to visit a doctor for a diagnosis.
There are other symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These symptoms become prominent with time as the condition develops. They are:
- Difficulty with speech, both written and spoken, and language
- Confusion about events, people, and places
- Mood and personality changes
- Difficulty completing easy tasks and problems
- Poor motor coordination
- Hallucinations and delusions
There is a strong possibility that people around the person with Alzheimer’s will notice these symptoms before the person. Because of this condition’s progressive nature, the smart and reasonable thing to do is to contact a doctor as soon as possible.
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Doctors and scientists do not know the exact cause of dementia. However, what they do know is that the build-up of two proteins, amyloid and tau, is heavily involved in Alzheimer’s. These two proteins form what is known as plaques and tangles in the brain.
The malfunction of amyloid leads to the creation of beta-amyloid, which is toxic to the brain. What causes the malfunction is yet to be confirmed. Amyloid and dead cells then combine to form plaques. Abnormalities in tau can cause it to clump together, which causes brain cells to die. Tau naturally helps brain cells communicate.
There is a connection between Alzheimer’s and acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. People with Alzheimer’s may have reduced levels of acetylcholine in the brain.
Scientists have also discovered some factors that increase the risk of a person having Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the commonest is age, with people above 65 at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The risk for developing the condition also doubles every five years after the age of 65. This implies that a 70-year-old will have double the risk of having Alzheimer’s than a 65-year-old.
Other factors like genetics, cardiovascular conditions, brain injuries, and Mild Cognitive Impairment may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
Right now, no medication can cure or prevent Alzheimer’s. However, several medications may help treat some of its symptoms. What these medications do is to increase the neurotransmitters in the brain. The medications usually prescribed are cholinesterase inhibitors, which may improve concentration and some other brain functions, like memory and language.
Psychological treatment options, like cognitive stimulation therapy, may also be employed.
Living with Alzheimer’s disease
Living with a condition that affects memory and brain function, like Alzheimer’s, is never easy; however, it is not impossible. The person with the condition needs a lot of support from family and friends. The person should stop smoking and reduce drinking to the barest minimum. A good diet and physical activity are also crucial.
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