Alzheimer’s disease, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer’s, is a progressive and irreversible disorder that causes degeneration of brain cells. Alzheimer’s disease affects and slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia which is a generic term used for dysfunction of cognitive abilities such as memory, thinking and logical reasoning. Alzheimer’s disease as mentioned is progressive, which means it worsens over time and in the severe stages the affected person becomes completely dependent on another person(s) for basic activities of daily living.
The actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown. It is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors and lifestyle contributes to the degeneration of brain cells.
- Memory loss is the most important and early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, which gets worsened as the disease progresses
- Difficulty in memorising conversations and events
- Forget and lose your way in familiar places
- Misplacing things, usually putting it in illogical locations
- Difficulty in identifying names of objects
- Difficulty in finding the right words to express thoughts
- Gradually forget names of very familiar persons, family members and objects used in daily living
- Losing reasoning abilities
- Difficulty in performing basic daily activities and familiar tasks
- Gradual change in personality such as mood swings, depression, social withdrawal, changes in sleeping habits
- Wandering may be seen in later stages
Major component in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is the signs and symptoms.
- Physical and neurological examination to assess muscle tone, balance, movements, reflexes and coordination
- Blood tests for metabolic disorders and vitamin deficiencies
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Computerized Tomography (CT)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Even though there is no actual preventive measure for Alzheimer’s disease, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is suggested to be effective.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol
- Intake of healthy and balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Be socially active
- Control blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels
- Take good care of mental health
- Keep brain cells active by using thinking, memory and reasoning skills more often.
Currently drugs and a supportive environment is the available treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Drugs used in the treatment are aimed at enhancing the cell to cell communication and improve symptoms such as depression.
- Creating a supportive environment is mainly the role of caretakers and family members. It involves assisting the person to deal with his/her difficulties in performing activities such as:
- Always keep the person’s possessions at the same place.
- Arrange a location tracker to be carried always so as to find the person if he/she loses his way.
- Use a reminder (calendar, board etc) to track schedules.
- As balancing difficulties may prevail, make suitable changes in the home handrails on staircases, provide comfortable slippers and removal of excess furniture and other wastes.
- Keep memories alive such as photographs.
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