Alzheimers disease (AD) is a degenerative disease that affects the sufferer’s brain. The disease causes nerve cells in the brain to die which results in memory loss, behavior and thought process changes. The disease is also referred to senile dementia because it mostly affects people over the age of 65. Dementia is characterized by loss of memory, impairment in the ability to organize thoughts, speak a language and see accurately. These characteristics are usually severe enough to interfere with a person’s normal level of functioning. Several other diseases cause dementia but alzheimers disease is the most common cause in senior citizens.
Even though alzheimers disease is most common among the elderly (late onset alzheimers), there is a rare form (only about 5% of reported cases) that is found in people between the age of 30 and 60 and is referred to as early onset alzheimers. Early onset alzheimers progresses faster than the late onset alzheimers.
There is no exact known cause for alzheimers disease but age and genetic history are the most common risk factors. People over the age of 85 have a 50% chance of developing this irreversible degenerative disease. A genetic link has been found in early onset alzheimers. Individuals with a first degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother) who has alzheimers have a higher chance of developing the disease.
Currently, there is no cure for alzheimers disease even though there is a great deal of research aimed at finding one. The treatments available for the disease are for improving the quality of life of the alzheimers sufferers and slow the progression of the symptoms. It is imperative to get an early diagnosis of the disease even though making a diagnosis can be a bit difficult. The reason for this is that the symptoms will vary from patient to patient. Also, dementia can be caused by other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body disease, frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia.
When making a diagnosis of alzheimers disease, the doctor will use a process of elimination (he has to rule out that no other causes for dementia exists) and a variety of tools. A complete medical exam, including neurological tests will be carried out, questions will be asked of the patient regarding symptoms and medical history and tests of memory, language, understanding, problem solving and attention.
Alzheimers disease is categorized into several stages depending on the severity of the symptoms. The stages are early stage, middle stage and late stage alzheimers. In the early stage, the most common symptom is forgetfulness that is often mistaken for normal signs of aging. The symptoms at this stage do not interfere with a person’s daily activities. As the disease progresses, symptoms become worse and a person may be unable to recognize family members. At the final stages of the disease, the patient becomes totally dependent on others for care.
There is a vast amount of research going on concerning Alzheimers disease so there will hopefully be some good news in the future as to finding a cure and better medications.