Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that destroys the brain cells over time, causing deficits in memory and other higher mental functions. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of irreversible dementia, a disorder in which degeneration of neurons leads to a decline in intellectual and social abilities. Despite massive quantity of on-going research, we do not have a cure for this debilitating condition yet.
Research suggests that Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetic factors, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Specific genes are also now recognized that play a role in the development of this disease. Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s are:
- Advanced age
- Female gender
- Family History/Hereditary Factors
- Down’s Syndrome
- Past History of head trauma
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary in terms of onset and severity from person to person, but generally start off with mild forgetfulness and confusion with progression to complete lapse in memory, particularly recent ones. Patients may also experience trouble with:
- Organizing thoughts and tasks
- Remembering places, names, addresses, appointments etc.
- Thinking and reasoning
- Making judgments and decisions
Personality changes also occur over time, with patient beginning to struggle with depression, anxiety, apathy, social withdrawal, and aggression. Physical abilities – swallowing, balance and coordination, bowel and bladder control – are the last to go. They can make the patient vulnerable to a variety of infections, pneumonia, aspiration, falls, fractures, etc.
The diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease is mainly clinical, and determined by the assessment of physical and neurological exams by a doctor. Definite proof can only be obtained after brain autopsy post death.
Symptoms can be delayed and somewhat managed by mainly two drugs: Memantine and Cholinesterase Inhibitors. Antidepressants can sometimes be also used for mood disorders. Other than that, the management for Alzheimer’s is mostly supportive.