Alzheimer’s disease is a condition where there is gradual degradation of the brain function leading to dementia. It is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly mainly affecting seniors over the age of 60 years. At the outset Alzheimer’s disease largely resembles the common symptoms seen with the normal aging process – poor memory, errors in judgement and other shortfalls that are just passed off as mistakes. However, as the condition progresses and the symptoms worsen, it becomes apparent that it is a specific condition extending beyond the normal aging process. Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating disease rendering a person unable to continue life without constant help from caregivers or institutionalization. It also causes immense stress to family members and friends who witness the gradual deterioration of the loved one both physically and mentally.
It is not known what causes Alzheimer’s disease although there is a possible genetic factor. However, it is not definite that you will develop Alzheimer’s disease if your parents had it. Similarly there is no guarantee that you will not develop Alzheimer’s disease if no close family member had it. Apart from it being more likely to develop with advancing age and in people with a family history, it also seems to be linked to obesity.
The people at greastest risk are obese women over the age of 60 years with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. Other factors may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease although the exact mechanism by which this happens is unclear. This includes severe head injury, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels. Down syndrome patients are also more likely to suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes Alzheimer;s disease can occur before the age of 60 years in which case it is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
There are broadly three stages of Alzheimer’s disease marked by worsening of symptoms as the condition progresses. In the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease there is short term memory loss, difficulty performing complex mental tasks, forgetting simple words, mood swings and sleeping problems. Often these symptoms are ignored. By the middle stage of the disease, the symptoms are more prominent and worrisome – memory loss, difficulty in communicating with others, inability to perform even simple mental tasks, personality changes and inappropriate behavior. By the late stages a person is almost totally mentally incapacitated and there is deterioration of the physical health. There is difficulty recognizing close family members and friends, inability to interact with other adults and eating and even normal bowel habits and urinary control are compromised.
Alzheimer’s disease is incurable. Medication used for Alzheimer’s disease just slows the progression of the condition and helps to control the symptoms. It cannot reverse the changes in the brain. Conservative measures like eating healthy, exercising regularly and keeping the mind active may also help slow down th progression of the disease. These measures may also be useful preventative measures for the elderly although Alzheimer’s disease may not be avoided altogether.