Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia (conditions that result in the progressive loss of mental functions) that affects the brain’s ability to think, reason and remember.
Previously, this and other types of mental decline among the aged were grouped together as ‘senility’. However, it is now recognized that there are many types of dementia and Alzheimer’s is one of the more common.
What causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Although Alzheimer’s can strike people in their forties and fifties, it is most common among the elderly. It accounts for more than half of all admissions to nursing homes.
At one time, dementia was thought to be an inevitable feature of ageing. We now know that is not true – most elderly people retain their mental faculties.
However, neither the cause nor the nature of Alzheimer’s disease is fully understood, although it is believed to be related to the degeneration of certain brain cells.
Research suggests that it might be connected with a virus, but the disease itself is not infectious or contagious.
Another theory which is also unproven says that it is caused by the toxic effects of a build-up of aluminium in the brain. Recent research has shown that there is a genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease. These cases are statistically rare and affect relatively younger people.
Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses slowly, with intellectual and emotional capacity gradually diminishing over a period that generally lasts many years.
It is characterized by the person’s increasing withdrawal from responsibility and social contact.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
– Impaired intellectual function
– Memory loss
– Personality disturbances, including apathy, withdrawal, agitation, irribility and quarrelsomeness
– Confusion and general disorientation
– Inability to dress appropriately or take care over personal hygiene
– Erratic moods
– Loss of control over bowel and bladder movements
How is Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosed and treated?
So far, there is no test to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease. Instead, identification is made on the basis of symptoms and by eliminating other causes of the mental decline.
These might include a stroke, hardening, of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), anaemia, nutritional deficiencies, a thyroid disorder, alcoholism, infection, tumours, and the effects of certain drugs.
Once all of these other options have been ruled out, a presumptive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is then made.
While there is no specific treatment for Alzheimer’s, there are many ways of helping those with the disease. Treating an underlying condition that is contributing to the mental problems often bring about an improvement.
For example, many Alzheimer’s patients also suffer from depression or delusions that compound their memory impairment.
Treating the depression may improve their general condition, even though the Alzheimer’s disease remains unchanged.
When should I see my doctor?
Anyone suspected of having Alzheimer’s disease should see a doctor as soon as possible. Many other diseases can produce the same symptoms, most of which can be treated successfully. Therefore, all other possible causes of the symptoms should be ruled out.
What will the doctor do?
Once a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is established, your doctor can advise you on how to care for the patient, as well as providing information about support groups, financial aid, and other aspects of long-term care.
What can I do myself?
Much of the burden of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease falls on family members. The resulting stress can take its toll on patient and carers alike.
You should consider obtaining some assistance, either by employing someone to take care of the sufferer while the rest of the family takes a break, or by obtaining some form of family advice or counseling, or both.
Modifying the environment can reduce certain stresses on both patient and carer. Keep the home uncluttered to improve safety and make sure that needed objects are always kept in the same place so that the patient does not have to learn new strategies.
Doors and windows may be locked to prevent the sufferer from roaming.
All Alzheimer’s patients should wear an identification bracelet indicating their condition and giving their name, address and telephone number.
Be patient and recognise that when the sufferer appears stubborn or difficult, it is brain impairment and not contrariness that is the problem.
As the disease progresses, the person will need more and more help and support when performing simple tasks.
Is Alzheimer’s Disease dangerous?
Alzheimer’s disease can be dangerous in that individual may need constant supervision to prevent them coming to harm.
However, by taking practical steps to overcome the problems associated with the condition, a good quality of life can be maintained for all concerned.
Further information, you may contact the Alzheimer’s Associations in your state/country.