What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Symptoms and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common of all the diseases that cause dementia and is present in about 55% of all dementia cases.
Treatment cannot reverse the decline but can help slow down its progress.
How does Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain?
In the brain, messages are sent along networks of brain cells via tiny chemical messengers. Alzheimer’s disease produces tiny ‘plaques’ (disc-like particles) and tangles of fibrous material (called tau) that block the chemical messengers from moving along the brain cell networks. This impairs brain function – making it more difficult to create memories, to plan and to reason. As more plaques and tangles develop, brain cells start to die and the brain actually gets gradually smaller.
What is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease?
There is no single cause of Alzheimer’s. Pollution, viruses, heredity and repeated head injury may all contribute – even underuse of the brain could be a factor. (Aluminium was once considered to be a cause, but this is now doubted.)
Age is the most common factor with Alzheimer’s and there does also appear to be a hereditary element in many cases. But there is still no way to predict who will or won’t get the disease.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
The most important thing to remember is that Alzheimer’s symptoms are the same as with other causes of dementia, some of which may actually be treatable: such as an infection, anaemia, or a thyroid problem. Alternatively, they could be caused by very different factors like stress, alcohol abuse or depression.
So the symptoms alone are not reliable in arriving at a diagnosis. Also remember that any one symptom could have a perfectly mundane explanation – and that brains do tend to simply slow down with age.
That said, the usual symptoms include the following functional and personality factors:
The importance of getting a professional diagnosis
Diagnosis is essential to discovering whether the cause of the symptoms is curable or not. Also, the sooner Alzheimer’s is identified, the more effective treatment could be and the slower the subsequent degeneration.
A positive diagnosis will also open the door to support services geared to dementia sufferers and their carers – and allow the individual and their family to plan for the future.
What medications are there for Alzheimer’s disease treatment?
While there are now various drugs that can be prescribed, none of them is a cure – they can only slow down the development of the dementia.
For people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, the following three drugs are available:
These drugs all work by slowing down the breakdown of the brain’s chemical messenger, acetylcholine, and temporarily stabilises or improves brain function. However, the drugs do not work equally well for everyone – one may work better than another for a particular individual.
In the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s, Ebixa is usually prescribed – a drug that modulates the levels of molecules that are responsible for memory and learning processes.
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