Alzheimer’s Disease: A Guide to its Stages, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Care

573
0

Even though receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer‚Äôs disease can be terrifying, you can definitely improve the quality of life for your loved one through a deeper understanding of the condition. Read to know more about Alzheimer’s disease, its stages, symptoms, treatment, and more.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative condition of the brain. In this, the affected individual experiences a progressive decline in cognitive and behavioural functioning, leading to a deterioration of memory, language, understanding, concentration, reasoning, and judgement. It is associated with shrinkage of the brain and the death of brain cells.

What is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease that occurs before the age of 65 years is called early-onset or young-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Usually, affected people begin to show symptoms in their 40s and 50s. Symptoms of this variant are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease among the elderly. A positive family history is a risk factor for this condition.

What is dementia?

The term ‚Äėdementia‚Äô refers to a general decrease in a person‚Äôs memory and other mental abilities that is so severe that it impairs their ability to carry out their day-to-day tasks. It is not a disease on its own; many diseases can cause dementia. The commonest cause of dementia is Alzheimer‚Äôs.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Symptoms include :
  • Memory loss: This is initially mild but worsens over time, leading to –
  • Difficulty in planning and making decisions
  • Difficulty in carrying out routine tasks such as bathing, getting dressed and eating food
  • Inability to recognise people, objects and places
  • Problems in balancing: Affected persons trip and fall, spill things etc.
  • Personality changes: Becoming upset, angry, anxious and suspicious more often
  • Hallucinations
Symptoms of alzheimer

What are the stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?

  • Preclinical stage: Patients do not display any symptoms, but imaging shows deposits in the brain. This stage can go on for years together
  • Mild cognitive impairment: There are slight changes in memory and thinking
  • Mild dementia: Alzheimer‚Äôs is usually diagnosed at this stage. There is a noticeable loss of memory, changes in personality, and difficulty in performing complex tasks
  • Moderate dementia: Patients experience greater loss of memory, difficulties in making decisions and judgement, and require help with carrying out daily tasks
  • Severe dementia: In this, patients completely lose the ability to communicate coherently, require assistance for executing daily tasks and there is a decline in physical abilities as well

What are the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease?

Some risk factors include :
  • Increasing age
  • Family history
  • Genetic factors
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Social isolation
  • Improper sleep patterns
  • Head trauma
  • Depression
  • Heart disease

Is Alzheimer’s disease preventable?

Since the exact cause of the disease still remains unknown, it cannot be prevented as of now. However, adopting certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk. These include :
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy and balanced diet
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Keeping medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes under control
  • Engaging in leisure activities such as reading, playing a musical instrument etc.

When do I consult a doctor for Alzheimer’s disease?

Consult a doctor as soon as you start noticing symptoms. A doctor specialising in treating brain conditions (neurologist) will be able to review your symptoms and perform the required tests to diagnose the condition.

How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your family history and any other medical conditions you may have. This is called history taking, and it helps your physician rule out other causes and narrow down the diagnosis. History taking is followed by :
  • Physical and neurological evaluation: Test for muscle tone and strength, sight and hearing senses, reflexes, coordination, and balance
  • Blood tests: To rule out other possible causes of confusion or memory loss, such as thyroid disease or a vitamin deficiency
  • Mental status and neuropsychological assessment: To evaluate memory and mental functioning
  • Brain imaging: CT, MRI or PET scan to detect Alzheimer’s related changes and also rule out any other disease

How can I prevent the progress of Alzheimer’s disease?

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, some medicines can help slow its progression. Additionally, certain exercises and activities, and support from caregivers can help patients cope better.

What is the treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition. The treatment options available are intended to arrest the progress and to help cope with the disease. These include :
  • Medicines (help in slowing the progression of the disease)
  • Cognitive stimulation therapy: Group exercises and activities that are intended to improve memory and problem-solving skills
  • Cognitive rehabilitation: This involves working with a therapist or caregiver to accomplish a personal goal, like learning to use a mobile phone or other commonplace chores

How do I care for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

The most important aspect of caregiving is to be understanding, supportive, and patient with your loved one. You can :
  • Make sure they take their medications on time
  • Assess their daily routine and what tasks they are able to complete
  • Save important phone numbers and enable location tracking on their mobile phones to easily locate them in case they get lost
  • Ensure that they carry an identification card or a medical alert card at all times
  • Install strong railings in the bathrooms and on staircases

How can I help an Alzheimer's sufferer eat more comfortably?

Some general guidelines include :
  • Avoid keeping a varying range of food options since changes in smell, taste or perception can make it difficult for your loved one to have proper meals. Additionally, serve no more than 1 or 2 dishes at once
  • Avoid placing objects (such as plastic fruits or baskets) on the dining table, as it may confuse and distract your loved one; rather set the table in a simple and straightforward manner
  • Give your loved one sufficient time to eat. Remind them to gently chew and swallow their food
  • Test the food’s temperature because your loved one might not be able to tell whether the food or drink is too hot or cold. Always check the temperature before serving

What are the complications of Alzheimer's disease?

Memory loss and other cognitive impairments brought can impact the treatment of other medical conditions. A person with Alzheimer’s may not be able to :
  • Communicate the symptoms of other illnesses
  • Adhere exactly to the medicine and treatment instructions
  • Identify the side-effects of medicines
Alzheimer’s patients are more prone to:
  • Pneumonia or other infections
  • Fractures
  • Bedsores
  • Malnutrition

Can Alzheimer’s disease lead to death?

In its advanced stages, Alzheimer’s disease is fatal. On average, people live between 3 to 11 years after the diagnosis, but some people can survive for 20 years or more.

Common causes of death include :

  • Pneumonia: Due to aspiration of food into the lungs as a result of impaired swallowing
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Falls
Dr. Sosa
WRITTEN BY

Dr. Sosa

MDS

An oral physician turned medical writer who writes profoundly about medicine and diseases. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *