Alzheimer's disease

Index:

 

  1. What is Alzheimer's disease?
  2. What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?
  3. What causes Alzheimer's disease?
  4. What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease?
  5. What is childhood Alzheimer's?
  6. Is Alzheimer's disease genetic? 
  7. What is the treatment for Alzheimer's disease?
  8. Which specialist treats Alzheimer's disease?

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative and progressive brain disorder that severely affects certain mental functions of the patient and interferes with their daily lives. It is the most common form of dementia in the UK.

Woman with Alzheimer's, with her head in her hands

 

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

At the beginning of Alzheimer's disease, the patient shows small memory loss such as difficulty remembering recent things or names of people. These symptoms get worse until they are unable to recognise close family members and have difficulty reasoning, speaking, reading and writing.

The main neurological symptoms are:

  • Inability to retain new information.
  • Inability to remember personal information such as birthdays or profession.
  • Alteration in reasoning capacity.
  • Aphasia
  • Apraxia
  • Loss of spatial capacity
  • Changes in character and personality.

What causes Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's is caused by the degeneration of connections between brain cells, as well as genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. Although the exact cause is unknown, the effect of the disease is the damaging and killing of brain cells. A brain in an Alzheimer’s patient has fewer connections between brain cells than in the brain of a healthy person.

There are also certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including: 

  • Age: usually affects people over 60-65 years old.
  • Sex: more women are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
  • Family heritage: it is estimated that 40% of Alzheimer's patients have a family history.
  • Genetic factor: several mutations in the gene of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) or in that of presenilin 1 and 2.
  • Environmental factors

3D model of Alzheimer's brain

What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease?

There are seven specific stages of Alzheimer's disease. However, it can be broken into three more general stages that take all of the various phases of Alzheimer's disease.  

Early stage Alzheimer's disease

A common early sign of Alzheimer's is loss of recent memory. These may manifest in people with Alzheimer's via the following:

  • Losing interest in other people or activities;
  • Becoming unwilling to try out new things or adapt to change;
  • Sometimes become confused;
  • Repeating themselves;
  • Becoming slower at grasping new ideas;
  • Losing the conversation thread of topic;
  • Forgetting about recent conversations or events;
  • Showing poor judgement, or finding it harder to make decisions.

Middle-stage Alzheimer's disease

Changes become more obvious as Alzheimer's progresses, and the person needs more support in order to manage their day-to-day life. The symptoms of middle-stage Alzheimer's may include:

  • Repetition of the same question or phrase, over and over;
  • Failure to recognise people or confusing them with others;
  • Getting upset, angry or aggressive very easily;
  • Finding perception difficult, and in some cases hallucinating;
  • Needing reminders or assistance to eat, wash, dress and use the toilet, on a regular basis;
  • Unusual behaviour;
  • Mixing up day and night;
  • Getting mixed up about location, walking off or getting lost. 

Late stage Alzheimer's disease

The late stages of Alzheimer's disease mean that the person with the condition will become totally dependent on others for care. The symptoms of this stage includes:

  • Becoming distressed or unintentionally aggressive;
  • Restlessness and appearing to be searching for something;
  • Frailty, and eventually becoming confined to a bed or wheelchair;
  • Incontinence;
  • Weight loss that is considerable, or weight gain;
  • Gradual loss of speech - however, a person with Alzheimer's may repeat a few words or occasionally cry out. 

What is childhood Alzheimer's?

Childhood Alzheimer's is different to the condition that manifests in adults. It isn't a condition itself and is a term used to refer to two different diseases which cause children to have memory loss and other symptoms that are associated with Alzheimer's disease

These diseases are:

  • Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC)
  • Sanfilippo syndrome or mucopolysaccharidosis type III (MPS III)

They are known as lysosomal storage disorders, where the lysosomes of their cells don't function properly. 

Is Alzheimer's disease genetic? 

Developing Alzheimer's disease can be affected by the genes you inherit from your parents. However, the increase in risk is small

Man with Alzheimer's with his eyes closed while holding his chin

 

Despite this, Alzheimer's disease can be caused by the inheritance of a single gene in a few families. The risk of this condition being passed on are much higher. 

It's possible to seek genetic counselling for advice about your chances of developing Alzheimer's disease in older age. 

What is the treatment for Alzheimer's disease?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but some drugs can help delay the disease and its symptoms. Activities and support also play an important part in the care of Alzheimer’s patients. 

Older woman holding her chin

Which specialist treats Alzheimer's disease?

Before seeing an Alzheimer's disease specialist, your family doctor or GP can be the first point of assistance. They can do a physical exam, ask questions to investigate and for provision of a diagnosis and memory tests

There are various Alzheimer's disease specialists your GP can refer you or a loved one, too. They include: 

  • Geriatrician
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Neurologists
  • Neuropsychologist 
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