Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other mental functions.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. The changes from the disorder are severe enough to interfere with daily life.
In Alzheimer’s disease the brain cells degenerate and die causing a gradual decline in memory and mental function.
Medications and management strategies may temporarily improve Alzheimer’s symptoms. This may help to maximize function and maintain independence. However, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include forgetfulness or mild confusion. However, over time, the disease destroys more memory, especially recent. The rate of progression can vary from person to person.
The memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease persists and worsens, affecting the ability to function at work or at home. Memory problems can cause the following symptoms:
- Repeating statements and questions. Forgetting conversations, appointments or events or not remembering them later
- Routine misplacing of possessions. Forgetting the names of family members and everyday objects
- Disorientation and misinterpreting spatial relationships. Alzheimer’s disease can make one lose sense of current life circumstances or cause difficulty understanding the surroundings as well as disrupt the brain’s ability to interpret what one sees.
- Speaking and writing. Alzheimer’s disease causes trouble identifying objects, expressing thoughts or taking part in conversations. Over time, the ability to read and write also declines.
- Thinking and reasoning. Alzheimer’s causes difficulty concentrating and thinking as well as difficulties or inability to recognize and deal with numbers.
- Making judgment and decisions. Responding effectively to everyday problems becomes increasingly challenging.
- Planning and performing familiar tasks. Activities that were routine before such as cooking, can become a struggle as the disease progresses. In advanced Alzheimer’s people eventually forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing or bathing.
Changes in personality and behavior, such as:
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Distrust in others
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Loss of inhibitions
Information and skills that are learned early in life are among the last abilities to be lost as the disease progresses.
Experts believe that Alzheimer’s disease results from a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain.
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not fully understood but its effect on the brain damages and kills brain cells. As more brain cells die, it causes the brain to shrink significantly. As a result the brain forms abnormalities such as:
- Plaques (clumps of protein called beta-amyloid)
- Tangles (abnormal structure and functioning of tau protein)
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Increasing age
- Family history and genetics
- Being a woman
- Mild cognitive impairment
- Past head trauma
- Unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, lack of exercise, high blood cholesterol, etc)
Alzheimer’s disease may cause the following complications:
- Memory and language loss
- Impaired judgment
- Inability to communicate pain
- Inability to report symptoms of another illness
- Inability to notice or describe medication side effects
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Unsteady balance
- Pneumonia and other infections
- Injuries from falls
There is no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, research into prevention is ongoing. The strongest evidence suggests that lowering the risk of heart disease may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.