Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease


What is the Alzheimer's Disease


Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia among older people. It involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. Every day scientists learn more, but right now the causes of Alzheimer's Disease are still unknown, and there is no cure.

AD is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness.

He found abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles). Today, these plaques and tangles in the brain are considered hallmarks of AD.

The disease usually begins after age 60, and risk goes up with age. While younger people also may get AD, it is much less common. About 3 percent of men and women ages 65 to 74 have Alzheimers Disease, and nearly half of those age 85 and older may have the disease. It is important to note, however, that AD is not a normal part of aging.
Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

Scientists also have found other brain changes in people with AD. There is a loss of nerve cells in areas of the brain that are vital to memory and other mental abilities. There also are lower levels of chemicals in the brain that carry complex messages back and forth between nerve cells. AD may disrupt normal thinking and memory by blocking these messages between nerve cells.


Read more:

Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment for Amblyopia - Lazy eye

Causes of Alzheimer's Disease?


Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer's Disease. There probably is not one single cause, but several factors that affect each person differently. Age is the most important known risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease. The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.

Family history is another risk factor. Scientists believe that genetics may play a role in many AD cases. For example, familial Alzheimer's Disease, a rare form of AD that usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 60, can be inherited. However, in the more common form of AD, which occurs later in life, no obvious family pattern is seen. One risk factor for this type of AD is a protein called apolipoprotein E (apoE). Everyone has apoE, which helps carry cholesterol in the blood. The apoE gene has three forms. One seems to protect a person from AD, and another seems to make a person more likely to develop the disease. Other genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer's Disease or that protect against AD probably remain to be discovered.

Scientists still need to learn a lot more about what causes Alzheimer's Disease. In addition to genetics and apoE, they are studying education, diet, environment, and viruses to learn what role they might play in the development of this disease.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease


Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease
AD begins slowly. At first, the only symptom may be mild forgetfulness. People with Alzheimers Disease may have trouble remembering recent events, activities, or the names of familiar people or things. Simple math problems may become hard to solve. Such difficulties may be a bother, but usually they are not serious enough to cause alarm.

However, as the disease goes on, Alzheimers Disease symptoms are more easily noticed and become serious enough to cause people with AD or their family members to seek medical help. For example, people in the later stages of Alzheimer's Disease may forget how to do simple tasks, like brushing their teeth or combing their hair. They can no longer think clearly. They begin to have problems speaking, understanding, reading, or writing. Later on, people with AD may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, patients need total care.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease


An early, accurate diagnosis of AD helps patients and their families plan for the future.

It gives them time to discuss care options while the patient can still take part in making decisions. Early diagnosis also offers the best chance to treat Alzheimers Disease symptoms.

Today, the only definite way to diagnose AD is to find out whether there are plaques and tangles in brain tissue. To look at brain tissue, doctors must wait until they do an autopsy, which is an examination of the body done after a person dies. Therefore, doctors must make a diagnosis of "possible" or "probable" AD.

At specialized centers, doctors can diagnose AD correctly up to 90 percent of the time. Doctors use several tools to diagnose "probable" AD:

  • A complete medical history includes information about the person's general health, past medical problems, and any difficulties the person has carrying out daily activities.
  • Medical tests such as tests of blood, urine, or spinal fluid – help the doctor find other possible diseases causing the symptoms.
  • Neuropsychological tests measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language.
  • Brain scans allow the doctor to look at a picture of the brain to see if anything does not look normal.
Information from the medical history and test results help the doctor rule out other possible causes of the person's symptoms. For example, thyroid problems, drug reactions, depression, brain tumors, and blood vessel disease in the brain can cause Alzheimer's Disease-like symptoms. Some of these other conditions can be treated successfully.

Recently, scientists have focused on a type of memory change called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is different from both AD and normal age-related memory change. People with MCI have ongoing memory problems but do not have other losses like confusion, attention problems, and difficulty with language. Scientists funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) are conducting the Memory Impairment Study to learn whether early diagnosis and treatment of MCI might prevent or slow further memory loss, including the development of AD.

Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease


Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease
AD is a slow disease, starting with mild memory problems and ending with severe brain damage. The course the disease takes and how fast changes occur vary from person to person. On average, AD patients live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, though the disease can last for as many as 20 years.

No treatment can stop AD. However, for some people in the early and middle stages of the disease, the drugs tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), or galantamine (Reminyl) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Also, some medicines may help control behavioral symptoms of Alzheimers Disease such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression. Treating these Alzheimers Disease symptoms often makes patients more comfortable and makes their care easier for caregivers.

Developing new Alzheimer's Disease treatments is an active area of research. Scientists are testing a number of drugs to see if they prevent AD, slow the disease, or help reduce behavioral symptoms.

Scientists are testing two different types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to find out if they slow the disease. There is evidence that inflammation in the brain may contribute to AD damage. Scientists believe that anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs might help slow the progression of AD. Rofecoxib (Vioxx) and naproxen (Aleve) are two NSAIDs currently being studied.

Research has shown that vitamin E slows the progress of some consequences of AD by about 7 months. Scientists now are studying vitamin E to learn whether it can prevent or delay AD in patients with MCI.

Recent research suggests that ginkgo biloba, an extract made from the leaves of the ginkgo tree, may be of some help in treating Alzheimers Disease symptoms. There is no evidence that ginkgo will cure or prevent Alzheimer's Disease. Scientists now are trying to find out whether ginkgo biloba can delay or prevent dementia in older people.

Research also is under way to see if estrogen reduces the risk of AD or slows the disease. One study showed that estrogen does not slow the progression of already diagnosed disease, but more research is needed to find out if it may play another role. For example, scientists now are trying to find out whether estrogen can prevent Alzheimer's Disease in women with a family history of the disease.

People with AD and those with MCI who want to help scientists test possible treatments may be able to take part in clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies to find out whether a new treatment is both safe and effective. Healthy people also can help scientists learn more about the brain and AD.


Is There Help for Caregivers?


Most often, spouses or other family members provide the day-to-day care for people with AD. As the disease gets worse, people often need more and more care. This can be hard for caregivers and can affect their physical and mental health, family life, job, and finances.