Alzheimer’s disease may be a small phrase, but it has a big impact on the lives of millions of people around the world. It’s a disease that can sneak up on you, slowly robbing you of your memories and abilities, until one day, you realize that you’re not the person you used to be. But even in the face of this devastating disease, there is hope.
We’re living in an age of incredible scientific progress, and every day, researchers are working to unlock the secrets of Alzheimer’s disease. From medications and lifestyle changes to stem cell therapy and exosomes, there are a variety of approaches being studied that may one day help us better manage this disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms
The primary sign of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. Early warning indications include having trouble recalling previous conversations or occurrences. Memory deficits worsen as the disease advances and new symptoms appear.
Alzheimer’s disease-related brain alterations cause increasing problems with:
- Making choices and judgments
- Preparing for and carrying out routine duties
- Personality and behavior changes
- Retained abilities
- Mood swings
What Causes of Alzheimer’s
It is unclear what causes Alzheimer’s disease exactly. But on a fundamental level, brain proteins malfunction, which interferes with the operation of brain cells (neurons) and sets off a chain of harmful events. Damaged neurons lose their connections to one another and finally die. Most often, according to scientists, Alzheimer’s disease results from a confluence of hereditary, dietary, and environmental variables that have an ongoing negative impact on the brain.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease can now be identified during a person’s lifetime with greater accuracy by doctors and researchers. Biomarkers, such as particular kinds of PET scans or quantifying amyloid and tau proteins in plasma and cerebral spinal fluid, can identify the existence of plaques and tangles.
Some of the common diagnoses include:
- Brain imaging
- Neurological examination
- CT scan
- Blood tests
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells and can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia and is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. It is a progressive neurological disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, which cause brain cells to degenerate and die.
|A specific type of dementia
|An umbrella term for various cognitive disorders
|Progressive and degenerative brain disorder
|General term for a decline in cognitive abilities
|Causes memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioural changes
|Causes a range of cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, impaired judgment, and language difficulties
|Characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain
|Can have multiple causes, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, etc.
|Often begins with memory impairment and difficulty learning new information
|Symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause
|Progresses over time, with worsening symptoms and functional impairment
|Progression and symptoms can vary depending on the specific type of dementia
|Risk factors include age, family history, and genetic factors
|Risk factors vary depending on the specific type of dementia
|Diagnosis typically involves a comprehensive evaluation of medical history, cognitive assessments, and imaging tests
|Diagnosis involves assessing cognitive decline and identifying the underlying cause
|The most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases
|Various types of dementia exist, each with different causes and characteristics
|Changes occur in the brain due to the accumulation of plaques
|It can vary depending on the type of dementia
Stages of Alzheimer’s Symptoms
While the stages of Alzheimer’s disease can vary somewhat from person to person, the following is a general overview of the three main stages:
Early Stage (Mild Alzheimer’s Disease)
During the early stage of Alzheimer’s, a person may experience mild memory problems, such as difficulty remembering recent events or appointments. They may also have trouble finding the right words to express themselves or planning and organizing tasks. At this stage, these symptoms may not be noticeable to others, and the person may still be able to function independently.
Middle Stage (Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease)
As Alzheimer’s progresses, memory problems become more severe, and the person may require more help with daily tasks, such as dressing, grooming, and preparing meals. They may also have difficulty recognizing familiar people, places, and objects and may experience changes in mood or behavior, such as becoming anxious, agitated, or depressed.
Late Stage (Severe Alzheimer’s Disease)
In the final stage of Alzheimer’s, a person’s cognitive and physical functions become severely impaired, and they may need around-the-clock care. They may have difficulty communicating, become completely dependent on others for all activities of daily living, and may be at risk for other medical complications, such as infections or difficulty swallowing.
Alzheimer’s disease follows a general progression, the disease course can vary widely among individuals, and some people may progress more rapidly or slowly than others.
Some organizations could also frame the stages of Alzheimer’s disease in terms of dementia, as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease often fall under the umbrella of dementia. Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
5 Stages of Dementia
The following is an overview of the stages of Alzheimer’s disease as they are sometimes framed in terms of dementia:
Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease
This stage refers to the early, pre-symptomatic phase of the disease, during which brain changes are occurring but symptoms are not yet apparent. Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease is typically diagnosed through biomarker testing or other types of specialized imaging.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) Due to Alzheimer’s Disease
MCI is a condition that involves mild memory or thinking problems that are not severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, MCI is thought to be an early stage of the disease, during which symptoms are starting to become noticeable but are not yet severe enough to meet the criteria for dementia.
Mild Dementia Due to Alzheimer’s Disease
During this stage, a person may experience more pronounced memory and thinking problems that begin to interfere with daily functioning, such as difficulty with language, decision-making, or performing familiar tasks.
Moderate Dementia Due to Alzheimer’s Disease
In this stage, symptoms become more severe and may include significant memory loss, difficulty recognizing familiar people or objects, and changes in mood or behavior. The person may require more assistance with daily activities and may experience difficulty with mobility or balance.
Severe Dementia Due to Alzheimer’s Disease
In the final stage of the disease, a person’s cognitive and physical functions are severely impaired, and they may be unable to communicate or care for themselves. They may experience difficulty with eating, swallowing, or other bodily functions and may be at risk for other medical complications.
How can you reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s?
There are steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing the disease or slow its progression. The following are some strategies that have been shown to be effective:
Regular exercise has been shown to be an effective way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming.
Follow a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and salt.
Engage in mental and social activities
Keeping the brain active through mental and social activities, such as reading, puzzles, socializing with friends and family, and learning new skills, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is essential for overall health and cognitive function. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and seek treatment if you have trouble sleeping.
Manage chronic conditions
Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Work with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions and reduce their impact on your overall health.
Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s
There are a variety of approaches to treating Alzheimer’s disease and research into potential treatments is ongoing. Some of the approaches currently being studied include:
There are several medications available to treat Alzheimer’s disease that can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. These include cholinesterase inhibitors, which can help with memory and cognitive function, and memantine, which can help with confusion and agitation.
Lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, social engagement, and cognitive stimulation, may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and improve symptoms in those who already have the disease.
Supportive care, such as assistance with daily activities, therapy, and counselling, can help individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their families manage the challenges of the disease and improve their quality of life.
Stem cell therapy
Stem cell therapy involves the infusion of stem cells into the body in order to replace damaged cells and promote the growth of new, healthy cells. Some studies have shown promising results in animal models, with improvements in cognitive function and memory. However, more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of stem cell therapy in Alzheimer’s disease.
Exosomes are tiny particles released by cells that carry proteins and other molecules that can be used to communicate with other cells. Exosomes are being studied as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, as they may be able to deliver therapeutic molecules directly to the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells. Some studies have shown promising results in animal models, but more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of exosome therapy in humans with Alzheimer’s disease.
It should be noted that while these approaches may hold promise for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, they are still experimental and are not yet widely available. Additionally, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and treatments focus on managing symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease.