Understanding Alzheimer's: causes, symptoms, treatment, diagnosis, and prevention.

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorder manifested by cognitive and memory deterioration, progressive impairment of activities of daily living, and a variety of neuropsychiatric symptoms and behavioral changes. The disease sets in when the processing of certain proteins in the central nervous system begins to go wrong.

Then, toxic proteins appear inside the neurons and in the spaces that exist between them. As a consequence of this toxicity, there is a progressive loss of neurons in some areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, which controls memory, and the cerebral cortex, which is essential for language and reasoning, memory, recognition of sensory stimuli, and abstract thinking.

There are comprehensive multidisciplinary treatments for Alzheimer's patients and medications that help delay the evolution of symptoms.

The care dedicated to people with Alzheimer's, however, must occur full-time. Caregivers, nurses, other professionals, and family members can take care of details related to food, environment, and other aspects that can increase patients' quality of life.

What Causes Alzheimer's?

The cause is still unknown, but it is believed to be genetically determined. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of neurodegenerative dementia in older people, accounting for more than half of the cases of dementia in this population.

What Are The Stages of Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease usually progresses to various stages slowly and inevitably, that is, there is nothing that can be done to stop the disease from advancing. People affected by Alzheimer's can live on average between eight and ten years.

The clinical picture is usually divided into four stages:

  1. Stage 1 (initial form): changes in memory, personality, and visual and spatial skills.

  2. Stage 2 (moderate form): difficulty speaking, performing simple tasks, and coordinating movements. Restlessness and insomnia.

  3. Stage 3 (severe form): resistance to performing daily tasks. Urinary and fecal incontinence. Difficulty eating. Progressive motor disability.

  4. Stage 4 (terminal): restriction to the bed, mutism, pain when swallowing, intercurrent infections.

In the most severe cases of Alzheimer's, the loss of the ability to perform daily tasks also appears, resulting in complete dependence on the caretaker. The disease can also be accompanied by depression, anxiety, and apathy.

What Are The Symptoms of Alzheimer's?

The first and most characteristic symptom of Alzheimer's is recent memory loss. As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms appear, such as the loss of remote (old) memory, irritability, language flaws, and impairment in orienting themselves in space and time.

Among the main signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's are:

  • Lack of memory for recent events

  • Repetition of the same question several times

  • Difficulty following complex conversations or thoughts

  • Inability to develop strategies to solve problems

  • Difficulty driving a car and finding familiar paths

  • Difficulty finding words that express personal ideas or feelings

  • Irritability, unjustified suspicion, aggressiveness, passivity, misinterpretation of visual or auditory stimuli, the tendency to isolation

What Are The Risk Factors For Alzheimer's Disease?

Identifying the disease and its risk factors in the initial stage are essential for a better therapeutic outcome and prognosis of cases.

Some risk factors for Alzheimer's are:

  • Age and family history: dementia is more likely if the person has a family member who has already suffered from it.

  • Low level of education: people with a higher level of education generally perform more complex intellectual activities, which offer a higher amount of brain stimuli.

The greater the person's brain stimulation, the greater the number of connections created between nerve cells. These new paths expand the possibility of circumventing brain injuries, requiring a higher loss of neurons for symptoms of dementia to begin to appear. Therefore, one way to slow down the disease process is constant and diversified cognitive stimulation throughout life.

How To Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease does not yet have a specific form of prevention; however, doctors believe that keeping an active mind and a good social life, together with good habits and styles, can delay or even inhibit the manifestation of the disease.

Thus, the main ways to prevent Alzheimer's are:

  • Study, read, think, and keep your mind always active

  • Do arithmetic exercises

  • Smart games

  • Group activities

  • Do not smoke

  • Do not consume alcohol

  • Have a healthy and regulated diet

  • Practice regular physical activities

How is Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease is by exclusion. Initial screening should include the assessment of depression and laboratory tests with a particular emphasis on thyroid function and blood vitamin B12 levels.

Which Doctor Can Diagnose and Treat Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's can be treated by a geriatric psychiatrist or by a neurologist specializing in the treatment of Alzheimer's Disease.

How To Know If a Person Has Alzheimer's?

The diagnosis of Alzheimer's in patients with memory problems is based on identifying specific cognitive changes. Careful physical and neurological examinations accompanied by an assessment of mental status to identify deficits in memory, language, and visuospatial, which is the perception of space.

It is worth mentioning once again that early diagnosis, adequate and timely treatment is essential to enable symptom relief and stabilize or delay the progression of the disease.

What is the Treatment For Alzheimer's?

The treatment of Alzheimer's is medication, and patients have at their disposal drugs capable of minimizing the distress of the disease, which must be prescribed by the doctor. The purpose of drug treatment is to stabilize cognitive impairment, behavior, and the performance of activities of daily living (or to modify the manifestations of the disease), with a minimum of adverse effects.

In addition, patients with Alzheimer's may take more medications or less than the prescribed amount due to forgetfulness, so supervision is necessary.

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