What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that slowly destroys the ability to learn and reason. It also does damage to long-term memory and short-term memory. Alzheimer’s is named after a German neurologist named Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906 he discovered unusual clumps and uneven knots of brain cells in a woman who passed away of an unknown mental disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. In fact, it is the most common of all types of dementia.

1 in 20 people who are 65 years or older may be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. It may also be known as senile dementia. Britain’s WWII Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain cells, causing them damage and finally killing  them. No one really knows why Alzheimer’s occurs or why the brain cells are attacked. People over the age of 65 are more likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease. You are also at risk if it is in your family history or if you have Downs syndrome.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

The most well known symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. However, there are other problems that people with Alzheimer’s may experience. Some of the warning signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Memory loss- this is one of the most commonly known symptoms. People with Alzheimer’s are likely to forget where items were put down and the names of their loved ones.
  • Difficulty with daily tasks. People with Alzheimer’s are likely to leave the oven on or put items in odd locations such as the milk in the oven.
  • Problems with numbers or maths.  People with Alzheimer’s have an inability to recognise numbers or balancing a checkbook.
  • Speech difficulties. Alzheimer’s can affect speech in decreasing word memory and making sentences hard to understand.
  • Disorientation. People with Alzheimer’s have a tendency to lose their way in their neighborhood and have no idea how they got there.
  • Poor judgment. For example, people with Alzheimer’s may forget to wear a coat in cold, winter months.
  • Altering mood and behaviours. People with Alzheimer’s can experience dramatic mood swings
  • Changes in personality.  People who suffer from Alzheimer’s may be aggressive and experience paranoia and hallucinations.

In the later stages of the Alzheimer’s,  people with a severe case of the disease become unable to do anything for themselves and may become bedridden. They may begin to need assistance with daily living skills such as eating, bathing, and toileting. Communication will become more difficult as the disease progresses and they lose the ability to talk and write.

Alzheimer’s is not a one-size-fits-all disease. It affects everyone differently. Some people may suffer from it for ten or more years while it will attack others more aggressively.

How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?

Doctor’s are not able to diagnose Alzheimer’s 100% accurately. The diagnosis is reliant on the doctor’s judgment and the medical history of the patient. There are a few tests that can be done in order to help with diagnosing Alzheimer’s:

  • Physical exam
  • Memory and problem solving tests
  • CT scan and/or blood test to rule out other possibilities

A 100% diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease can only be made after death from a  brain autopsy. The majority of people with Alzheimer’s die from a secondary illness, such as pneumonia.

What treatment options are available for Alzheimer’s?

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are a few drug options that are available to lessen the symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. People who have Alzheimer’s need to visit their GP regularly in order for the doctor to analyse the disease progression and to check on other illnesses. The doctor can also support the patient’s family by providing resources and answering any questions the may have.

Scientists have discovered that there are genes that are associated with Alzheimer’s. In time this may lead to new treatments, which can stop the progression of this disease.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease

This can be very difficult for all the parties involved. The better understanding you have of Alzheimer’s, the better care you can provide. Below are some tips that may help in caring for someone with this disease:

  • Keep all of the environments familiar and safe.
  • Encourage moderate exercise when at all possible.
  • Patience is the key. Speak slowly and clearly when you are talking to loved ones. Stand where you can be seen.
  • Body language should be used to communicate at all times.
  • Keep your loved one clean. Haircuts and baths can help to aid high spirits.
  • If the person you are looking after tends to wander, keep the doors locked at all times. Also, make an identity bracelet with your contact information on, in case of emergencies.

To find out more about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website www.alzheimers.org.uk. The Alzheimer’s Disease Society offers a wide variety of care services in the UK and can be contacted on 0845 300 0336 for help and advice.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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