Memory loss that disrupts the everyday routine of a person can either be an indication of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Knowing about what causes Alzheimer’s and how it can be identified so that you can go for the right treatment options is important if your family history makes you vulnerable.
Alzheimer’s, as some of you might already know, is a disease of the brain which is characterized by a gradual decline in thinking skills, memory, and reasoning capabilities. It is a progressive as well as an irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys what a brain is able to do, cognition wise. Gradually, the person loses the ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks. Since it is a neurodegenerative disease, the symptoms at first are mild, but over time, they become more severe.
Alzheimer’s is classified into two kinds; late-onset Alzheimer’s in which the symptoms start to appear when a person is in the mid-sixties. Meanwhile, the early-onset Alzheimer’s is quite rare and occurs when a person is between the thirties and the mid-sixties. In older adults, such a disease is also the primary cause of dementia.
During Alzheimer’s, there is a build-up of proteins that make structures known as tangles and plaques. Due to these structures, there is a loss of connections between the nerve cells. With time, this leads to the death of the nerve cells as well as loss of brain tissue.
When faced with the question related to what causes Alzheimer’s, research suggests that patients with Alzheimer’s have been found to have a slightly different chemical environment in the brain. A few chemicals that are essential for the transmission of signals in the brain are present in a low amount. Due to the shortage of these chemicals messengers, the transmission of signals doesn’t take place as efficiently. As mentioned earlier, Alzheimer’s occurs due to the death of brain cells and is a neurodegenerative disease so (over time) a progressive process of brain cell death takes place.
Studies suggest that in people with Alzheimer’s, the brain tissues have very few nerve cells and connections. Moreover, autopsies of these people have also shown that there are tiny deposits that build-up on the tissue called tangles and plaques. The plaques are made from beta-amyloid, a protein, and are found among the dying plaques. Meanwhile, the tangles are also made from a protein called Tau and occur in between the nerve cells. Up till now, researchers haven’t been able to figure out the reason behind these changes; however, there are a few factors that are believed to play a role in causing Alzheimer’s.
The risk factors that might be responsible for developing Alzheimer’s include having a certain set of genes, aging, and a history of Alzheimer’s in the family.
One of the very first visible signs of Alzheimer’s is memory problems although the initial symptoms can vary from one person to another. The early stages of Alzheimer’s can also be characterized by a decline in aspects of thinking like impaired judgment or reasoning, issues with vision, and difficulty in finding the correct words. Another early sign of Alzheimer’s can be MCI – Mild Cognitive Impairment, however, it isn’t necessary that all patients of MCI will end up with Alzheimer’s.
People that are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s find it difficult to go along their day and do routine tasks such as paying the bills, cooking, or driving a car. Patients might also keep on asking the same questions repeatedly, or they might put things in odd or unexpected places. They are also known for getting lost easily or finding the simplest things as confusing. Furthermore, as the disease continues to progress, some people tend to become violent, angry, or worried.
The time for which a person can live after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease primarily depends on the age of the said person. If he or she happens to be more than 80 years old when they’re diagnosed, then the life expectancy is usually around 3 to 4 years. However, if the person is younger, then he or she might live up to more than ten years after diagnosis.
Currently, no cure for Alzheimer’s has been found (yet); however, there are a few things that can help a person with such a disease live well. These things include both non-drug and drug-care along with different activities and support groups.
A patient of Alzheimer’s should be given the opportunity to talk to a professional regarding the disease. This could be any medical professional such as a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, general practitioner, mental health nurse, or an occupational therapist.
Moreover, there are also a few drug treatments for Alzheimer’s that can alleviate a few symptoms temporarily or for some people; the drugs might even slow down the progression of the disease. A few effective medicines include the following:
Aricept has the chemical name donepezil which is highly recommended when dealing with symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Aricept is used for treating symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s to moderate levels of this disease. This medicine works by improving the function of nerve cells. It prevents the breakdown of the chemical called acetylcholine in the brain. You should know that patients of Alzheimer’s have a low amount of acetylcholine which is why they face problems with reasoning, thinking, and memory.
Exelon Patch containing rivastigmine is from the classification of medicines called cholinesterase inhibitors. Exelon Patch, just like Aricept, is also used for treating the symptoms that come with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. As mentioned earlier, Alzheimer’s is thought to take place because of the degeneration of nerve cells that make acetylcholine, the chemical responsible for memory and learning. Just like Aricept, Exelon Patch also prevents the breakdown of the chemical, consequently increasing the amount present in the brain. Moreover, rivastigmine may also improve a few cognitive functions including language, orientation, and memory along with the ability to perform everyday functions.
With the chemical memantine, Namenda is a medicine used for treating moderate to severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This medicine belongs to a classification known as the NMDA receptor antagonists. Namenda works by reducing the amount of abnormal excitement going on in the brain. The chemical, memantine can assist the people with Alzheimer’s to think clearly and perform their daily activities with relative ease. While Namenda can’t cure this disease or even stop it from progressing, it can, however, improve a person’s awareness, ability to perform everyday tasks, and memory.
Understanding what is Alzheimer’s and what causes Alzheimer’s is helping the medical community to come up more efficient medication. However, more research is still required. Having said that, the currently available drugs for Alzheimer’s can help control the symptoms to a certain degree.