Common memory loss, from the misplacement of keys to forgotten birthdays, has long been rite of passage for getting older. Increasingly however, perhaps due to better diagnosis, chronic dementia has come to the forefront of health concerns – particularly one of its most severe conditions, Alzheimer's disease (AD)
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a slowly progressive disease of the brain, characterized by impairment of memory and eventually by disturbances in reasoning, planning, language, and perception. Many scientists believe that Alzheimer's disease results from an increase in the production or accumulation of a specific protein (beta-amyloid) in the brain, which leads to nerve cell death.
Alzheimer's disease increases substantially after age 70. However, 10 percent of people over age 65 and 50 percent over age 85 have Alzheimer's disease. The condition however is not a normal part of aging.
Estimates predict that unless new treatments are developed to decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's, patients with the disease in the U.S. could increase to 14 million by 2050. Evidence also shows that two to five percent of Alzheimer's patients are in their 50s, indicating there is a genetic risk factor as at least half of these early onset patients have inherited gene mutations associated with their Alzheimer's disease.
Other risk factors for Alzheimer's disease include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and possibly elevated blood cholesterol.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's
The onset of Alzheimer's disease is usually gradual, beginning with short term memory loss often attributed to the aging process, and progresses slowly. However, when memory loss consistently affects the usual level of functioning, resulting in personality changes, apathy and a tendency to withdraw from social activities, the problem could be more than normal aging.
Other symptoms include: trouble understanding figures and what is being read, increasing agitation, irritability, moodiness and carelessness in dressing. These symptoms may progress to confusion and disorientation of dates, times, addresses, names of friends and relatives. Eventually, patients may become unable to engage in conversation, become erratic in mood, uncooperative, and also lose bladder and bowel control. In late stages of the disease, patients may become totally incapable of caring for themselves.
Ten warning signs of Alzheimer's disease
According to the Alzheimer's Association, common warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include:
1. Memory loss
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation of time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative
Diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease
Despite the lack of a conclusive Alzheimer's clinical tests for patients with a form of dementia, specialized healthcare providers can pinpoint Alzheimer's through a complete exam of physical and neurological conditions, mental status, and family medical history.
Scans from computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that shows shrinkage in key areas of the brain can also rule out other common causes of dementia. The only definitive diagnose of Alzheimer's however is an examination of brain tissue after a patient's death.
Treatment and management
Despite a lack of a cure, the progression of Alzheimer's disease can be delayed by medication and nutritional therapy. Two different classes of pharmaceuticals are approved by the FDA for treating Alzheimer's disease: cholinesterase inhibitors and partial glutamate antagonists. Both approaches however have showed limited success in slowing down the progression of the disease. Nonetheless, many clinical trials suggest these medications are superior to placebos in relieving some symptoms.
Recent research also suggests that certain nutrients such as Folate (vitamin B6), vitamin B12, vitamin E and ginkgo biloba may slow down the disease's progression. Taking such supplement however may interact badly with other medications. In addition, over the counter supplements are vulnerable to dilution or consumer deceit because they are not regulated by the FDA. Be sure to speak with your doctor for sourcing legitimate providers of supplements.