Introduction to Alzheimers disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes a decline in brain function. The condition affects around 500,000 people in the UK, with those aged over 65 most at risk.
What is Alzheimers disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes a decline in brain function. The condition affects around 500,000 people in the UK, with those aged over 65 most at risk. Given that the average life expectancy in the UK is rising, we expect that more people are likely to experience the condition in the future, making it an important global health problem. If you are experiencing a decline in memory or cognition, especially if you are over 65 years of age, please consult a neurologist or GP who will distinguish whether your symptoms are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and help identify strategies to manage the symptoms and prevent worsening of the condition.
What is Alzheimers disease caused by?
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by wasting of the brain, resulting in abnormal function. The exact mechanism of damage has not been totally elucidated, though a great deal of research has identified several potential causes. The best characterised pathology in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s is a build-up of a protein known as amyloid, which may be neurotoxic, meaning that it stimulates brain cell death.
There is great interest in identifying the cause of these aggregates. Since Alzheimer’s disease often runs in families, it is likely that there is a genetic link. Several genes have indeed been identified that either increase or reduce your risk of developing dementia. Furthermore, the genetic disorder Down’s syndrome is strongly associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to the genetic risk, several environmental risk factors such as smoking, obesity and head injuries have been suggested to increase your chance of developing the condition.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimers disease?
Alzheimer’s disease usually develops slowly. Initial symptoms include poor memory, especially about recent conversations and events. Furthermore, those affected may repeat themselves during conversation, and find it difficult to make decisions. As the condition develops, memory loss becomes more substantial, with those affected struggling to recognise friends and family. Along with this comes confusion, disorientation and delusions. Speech and language becomes difficult, and changes in sleeping patterns and mood are common. Late stage Alzheimer’s is distressing for the individual and those around them. The individual may become suspicious of those around them, and other symptoms are likely to develop, such as difficulty in swallowing, speech loss, and urinary and bowel incontinence. At this point, full-time care becomes important as the individual is no longer able to care for him/herself.
How is Alzheimers disease treated?
Alzheimer’s disease is incurable and typically gets worse over time. However, medication is available that may reduce the severity of symptoms or slow down the rate of deterioration. In early/mid-stage disease, ‘AChE inhibitors’ such as donepezil, galantine and rivastigmine may be used.
In addition to medication, an important part of managing the condition is a care plan, in which your future health and social needs will be assessed. Furthermore, supportive measures are available, including an occupational therapy, along with psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).