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Alzheimer's disease: Symptoms and treatment

Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms and treatment

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia where the person undergoes a progressive decline in mental abilities such as memory, reasoning, and social skills. In this disease, the brain cells degenerate and die leading to gradual memory loss that worsens with time. It occurs mostly in people over 65 years of age and affects women slightly more than men.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but certain medications can delay the action and degenerative damage.

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists have found that Alzheimer’s disease is a combination of certain genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. While the cause is unclear, the effects of the disease on brain are well understood. Alzheimer’s disease leads to degeneration and atrophy of brain cells. This effect is mainly seen in the cerebral cortex, which is the gray matter of the brain. This leads to brain shrinkage. When the brain tissues are observed under microscope, two types of abnormalities are seen:

1. Plaques
These are clumps of beta amyloid proteins that destroy brain cells. This hinders the cell to cell communication as it affects the neurotransmitters.
2. Tangles
The support and transport system of brain is managed by a protein called tau. When the threads of this protein twist to form tangles, there is a failure of the transport system. This contributes to brain cell death and decline in its number.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
The symptoms progress from mild to severe conditions. The most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease are as follows:

1. Loss of memory and forgetfulness
There will be a gradual decline in memory. The person may start with repeating statements or questions, forgetting important conversations, meeting or appointments and misplacing their daily used items. This can lead to forgetting names of family members and common household objects.

2. Disorientation with space and time
The patient will have no spatial relationships. They will have no sense about time of year, day, time, and current events of their life. They will not be able to comprehend simple things. This can lead to situations where they will feel lost in their own homes.

3. Speaking and writing abilities
Conversing and expression of thoughts will become difficult for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They will no longer be able to speak, read, and write. These skills will be lost.

4. Slowing down of judgment and decision making process
The sense of judgment and decision making becomes very slow. They are unable to make right choices.

5. Reasoning skills
Reasoning skills decline gradually. It becomes very difficult for people to understand and deal with numbers.

6. Personality disorder
There will be a change in personality of people with Alzheimer’s disease. They experience anxiety, depression, distrust, mood swings, irritability, and aggressiveness.

Diagnosing Alzheimer ’s Disease

1. Computed tomography (CT) scan: It involves several X rays of brain at slightly different angles. A computer puts all the images together.
2. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: In this method, strong magnetic field and radio waves are used to create an image of internal brain.
3. Mini mental state examination (MMSE): This is a psychiatric examination to assess the severity of Alzheimer’s disease. It assess concentration power, attention, decision making, reasoning, comprehending abilities and short term and long term memory.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but some medication can delay the development of disease. These medications should be taken after consultation with doctors and with caution as they are associated with side effects.

1. Choline-esterase inhibitors: Commonly prescribed drugs are donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine. This increases the depleted neurotransmitters and improves cell to cell communication.
2. Memantine: This is another form of drug used in combination with choline esterase inhibitors.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented as the cause is not known but the onset of symptoms of dementia can be delayed by incorporating simple lifestyle changes.

1. Quit smoking and avoid binge drinking of alcohol.
2. Eat a healthy balanced diet with proper portions of fruits and vegetables every day.
3. Exercise regularly for 30 minutes.
4. Keep your mind active. Get involved in activities like chess, reading, writing etc.

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