Health

FORGET THINGS - You could have Alzheimer’s

iMEDHealth

It can be tough to receive an unprecedented diagnosis regarding a health condition. To suffer from a physical illness has its own challenges but a slow progressing illness of the brain that affects behavior and memory can be an unparalleled burden.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s dementia out of which 5.3 million are above 65 years of age and approximately 200,000 have younger onset Alzheimer’s.

 

Is Alzheimer’s and dementia the same thing?

Dementia is basically an umbrella term. It refers to a group of symptoms, comprising of cognitive impairment that affects memory and reasoning. Alzheimer’s disease falls under this category. In fact, 60-70% of dementia cases are due to Alzheimer’s, rendering it as the most common form of dementia.

Some basics about Alzheimer’s  

Alzheimer’s is a chronic, neurodegenerative condition which, unfortunately, only gets worse over time. Although increasing age is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, it is important to note that it is NOT a normal part of the ageing process. Age-related changes in memory are associated with occasional forgetfulness, not significant memory loss that interferes with daily life.

In its early stages, memory loss is mild and easily overlooked, but as the disease advances, significant behavioral changes and cognitive impairment become evident. Individuals may have trouble responding to simple questions, and may seem aloof to their surroundings. Keeping up a conversation may seem like a difficult task. Individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s may find themselves becoming increasingly unaware of their environment.

 

What causes Alzheimer’s?

  • Death of brain cells: The underlying pathology of Alzheimer’s is similar to other types of dementia i.e. brain cell death. Since it is a chronic condition, death of brain cells is a slow and gradual process. An ongoing reduction in nerve cells and nerve connections causes the brain to shrink in size eventually.

 

  • Protein accumulation in the brain: The degeneration of neurons leads to the formation of ‘tangles’ due to the breakdown of a protein known as ‘tau’. Microscopic examination also reveals the formation of ‘plaques’, in the form of tiny inclusions, found between the dead cells. They form due to build-up of a protein known as beta-amyloid, hence these clusters are also referred to as ‘amyloid plaques’.

Plaques and tangles are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. There is still much plodding in the field of Alzheimer’s research, as many questions remain unanswered. However, the effect that Alzheimer’s has on the brain is clear.

Are there any risk factors?

Experts have recognized the following risk factors, which may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Genetics: A positive family history increases your chance or tendency of acquiring Alzheimer’s, especially if a parent or sibling (first degree relative) has the disease. Genetic research has unveiled certain genes with strong associations to the disease. Two types of genes have been discovered; ‘risk genes’ that increase the probability of getting the disease but do not guarantee the occurrence and ‘deterministic genes’ which undoubtedly initiate the disease process in one who has inherited it.

 

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, as compared to men. At the age of 65, 1 out of 6 women has a chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s, whereas the incidence for the male population is 1 out of 11. Prevalence of this disease is so high that research suggests that after the age of 60, women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than breast cancer!

 

  • Age: According to the Alzheimer’s association, despite age being the greatest known risk factor, the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s should be distinguished from that of the normal ageing process.

 

  • Downs syndrome: Research suggests that a gene in the chromosome that causes Downs syndrome is implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and increases the risk of getting it. It has a tendency of appearing, before the average age i.e. 60-65 years.

 

  • Pre-existing cognitive impairment: Individuals with mild memory loss are at a greater risk for developing dementia in later life. Moreover, adopting a healthier lifestyle may slow down progression of disease.

 

  • Heart disease: Conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels (that supply oxygen to the brain) are associated with a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s or ‘vascular dementia’. This includes obesity, stroke, diabetes etc.

Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Early stage:

  • Difficulty with remembering new information
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in behavior
  • Confusion
  • Unawareness of time and place
  • Baseless suspicion for family and friends

Advanced stage:

  • Cannot function without help of a caregiver
  • Verbal dissociation
  • Considerable loss of speech
  • Aggressiveness
  • Apathy
  • Fatigue and exhaustion

 

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?

Unfortunately, there is no certain cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but much attention and funds are directed toward research and development. The mainstay of management is mostly palliative (supportive) in nature.

Management:

  • Medication: Medicines that regulate certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain which play a role in Alzheimer’s may be prescribed by your doctor. There is little evidence that drugs help in halting the disease process. Risk factors such as high blood pressure and hypercholesterolemia are also controlled by meds.

 

  • Psychological intervention: Behavioral cognitive therapy may help in the early stages. The aim of cognitive treatment is to reduce cognitive deficits and re-condition the brain with information about time, place or person

 

  • Caregiving: In the advanced stage, individuals with Alzheimer’s become completely dependent on their caregivers, who must ensure to take necessary precautions around the home to make it a safe environment for the patient.

 

Deteriorating brain health can be a devastating condition to endure alone. A great way to empower yourself is through knowledge and awareness. Get tested for the Alzheimer’s gene. This will not only prepare you and help you manage your situation better, but will make you a great empathizer of those who suffer from this condition. To support this cause, you can join Alzheimer’s walks (marathons) or donate money for research purposes.

If you are concerned that you may have Alzheimer’s or have questions about this illness please visit IMEDHEALTH. You can access our panel of top online physicians, anywhere, any time.

Keep your hopes up, because it is an activity of the mind that leads to nothing but positivity and a positive mind is a healthy one!

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