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What Is Alzheimer’s Disease? Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

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What Is Alzheimer’s Disease? Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments February 26, 2019

Imagine not being able to remember those who you hold dearest after a few years down the lane. How does it feel? Heartbreaking. Painful. Well, this is exactly what happens in the lives of as many as 5 million people living in the US. And this number is projected to grow to 13.8 million by 2050 (1)!

Sadly, there is no cure for this lethal disease. Hence, the most important help you can offer to those who have Alzheimer’s is emotional support. In this article, we have discussed everything you need to know about Alzheimer’s. Keep reading.

Table Of Contents

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder that causes the death of your brain cells. This may lead to memory loss and cognitive decline. It is the most common type of dementia and a form of neurodegenerative disease. Recent research indicates that Alzheimer’s disease is an autoimmune disorder.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s are usually mild in the initial stages and may become severe with time.

Those affected by this neurodegenerative disorder need to be cared for and supported. For this, you need to understand the different stages of the disease.

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Stages Of Alzheimer’s Disease

There are seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They are:

  • Stage 1 – Normal Outward Behavior: During this stage, an affected individual does not usually show any symptoms.
  • Stage 2 – Very Mild Changes: The patient begins developing mild changes in behavior that can hardly be detected.
  • Stage 3 – Mild Decline: At this point, small changes in the patient’s cognitive behavior begin surfacing. They can include forgetting some things, asking the same questions repeatedly, and facing trouble in making plans or organizing.
  • Stage 4 – Moderate Decline: The symptoms begin to get more prominent. New issues can also begin appearing, such as forgetting details regarding oneself, trouble remembering dates, months, and seasons, and trouble cooking meals and/or ordering food.
  • Stage 5 – Moderately Severe Decline: During this stage, the symptoms begin deteriorating further. The patient may begin losing track of time and also their surroundings. They may also forget addresses, phone numbers, and past details about themselves.
  • Stage 6 – Severe Decline: The cognitive abilities could decline further. This could mean that an affected individual recognizes faces but may tend to forget names. Identities can also be forgotten, as in, one’s wife can be mistaken for one’s mother.
  • Stage 7 – Very Severe Decline: The affected individual may begin facing difficulties while doing basic activities like sitting up, eating, or even walking. By the time an individual reaches this stage, they may not even be able to tell whether they are thirsty or not.

It is clear that most of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are associated with a decline in cognitive abilities. Let’s look at the symptoms.

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Signs And Symptoms

One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is a change in the sense of humor of an individual.

The most common signs and symptoms associated with the onset of this disease are:

  • A decrease in the ability to remember new things, which may lead to repetitive questioning, misplacing personal belongings, or forgetting appointments
  • Impaired ability to reason and complete complex tasks
  • Impaired visuospatial abilities or reduced ability to recognize faces or common objects
  • Impaired ability to read, write, or speak
  • Behavioral and personality changes

These changes usually vary from one person to another and may also present themselves in different ways.

If these symptoms occur gradually over months and years instead of hours and days and worsen the normal levels of cognition of the individual, the condition is most probably Alzheimer’s disease.

Are you curious to know what could be causing this disease? Let’s find out.

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What Are The Causes And Risk Factors?

Like almost all types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by brain cell death. It is a neurodegenerative disease, and it causes progressive brain cell death gradually.

The tissues have fewer nerve cells and connections in those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Autopsies have detected tiny deposits (plaques and tangles) that build upon the tissue.

Such plaques are found between the dying nerve cells and are made up of a protein called beta-amyloid. The tangles occur within the nerve cells and are made up of another protein called tau.

The exact cause that results in these changes and triggers Alzheimer’s disease is not yet found. However, a few other factors could be responsible for increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They are:

  • Advancing age
  • Heredity: A family history of the condition
  • Genetics: Carriers of certain genes
  • Severe and/or repetitive traumatic injuries to the brain
  • Exposure to certain environmental contaminants such as pesticides, toxic metals, and industrial chemicals

Before moving on to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, let us understand the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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Dementia Vs. Alzheimer’s Disease

Given that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, there are more similarities than differences between the two.

Dementia: It is not a specific disease but an umbrella term used to define a range of conditions that involve loss of cognitive functioning.

Alzheimer’s Disease: It is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of the cases.

To be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you need to be exhibiting cognitive decline that interferes with your daily work and life. The following are some tests that can help with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Diagnosis Tests

No single test can help in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor or neurologist will first begin by looking at the signs and symptoms exhibited by you, followed by a detailed analysis of your family history. Your medical history will also be evaluated to make a diagnosis by ruling out other conditions.

The patient’s neurological functions may also be checked – i.e., their reflexes, balance, and senses will also be tested.

Other diagnostic assessments may include:

  • A CT scan
  • An MRI scan

In some cases, genetic and cognitive testing may also be carried out to rule out other possible medical conditions.

Once Alzheimer’s is detected, you may be asked to opt for any of the following treatments.

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Medical Treatments

While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease – because the death of the brain cells cannot be reversed – the following are some therapeutic interventions that can make it easier for the affected individuals to live with the disease:

  • Effective management of other medical conditions that an Alzheimer’s patient could be suffering from
  • Day-care programs and activities
  • Encouraging an affected individual to be involved in support groups and services

Some drugs can also help in improving the quality of life and symptoms of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. They include cholinesterase inhibitors such as:

  • Tacrine (Cognex)
  • Rivastigmine
  • Donepezil

An NMDA receptor antagonist called Memantine (Namenda) might also be used alone or in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor.

Here are some additional natural remedies that can assist in managing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

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How To Manage The Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Ginkgo Biloba
  2. Vitamin E
  3. Curcumin
  4. Omega-3

1. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba Pinit

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You Will Need

120-240 mg of ginkgo biloba supplement

What You Have To Do
  1. Consume 120-240 mg of ginkgo biloba supplement.
  2. Consult a doctor before you take any additional supplement for your condition.
How Often You Should Do This

You may take this once daily or as per instructions from your physician.

Why This Works

Ginkgo biloba can enhance your cognitive function. It can help in improving mild cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease (2).

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2. Vitamin E

Vitamin E Pinit

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You Will Need

15 mg vitamin E

What You Have To Do

You can consume up to 15 mg of vitamin E daily. Foods rich in vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts, sunflower seeds, and green leafy vegetables. You can consult your doctor if you wish to take additional supplements for vitamin E.

How Often You Should Do This

You can include small amounts of vitamin E-rich foods in your daily diet.

Why This Works

Oxidative stress is one of the triggers known to worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidant properties of vitamin E can help delay the progression of the disease (3).

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3. Curcumin

Curcumin Pinit

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You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 1 glass of hot milk
What You Have To Do
  1. Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder to a glass of hot milk.
  2. Mix well and drink up.
How Often You Should Do This

You can drink this mixture once daily.

Why This Works

Curcumin is the major component of turmeric. This compound possesses a multitude of properties. Its powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipophilic properties can help improve the overall memory of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease (4).

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4. Omega-3

Omega-3 Pinit

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You Will Need

250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids

What You Have To Do

Consume about 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Foods rich in omega-3 include fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, soya, and chia seeds. Take your doctor’s advice if you plan on taking additional supplements.

How Often You Should Do This

You can include small amounts of omega- fatty acids in your daily diet.

Why This Works

Omega-3 fatty acids can help enhance cognitive functions, especially in mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease. They can also prevent neuronal loss in the long run (5).

While treatment can help you manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the condition cannot be cured. Here are some tips that can help.

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How To Lower The Risk Of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Keep a check on your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
  • Manage your weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Follow a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Always wear a seatbelt or helmet as per the requirement.
  • Take part in social engagements every now and then.

If any of your near or dear ones end up developing Alzheimer’s, you should be well-versed with different ways to help them cope with it.

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How To Take Care Of An Alzheimer’s Patient

  • Establish a routine.
  • Allow the affected individuals to take their time while doing things. Be patient with them.
  • Involve them in as many day-to-day activities as possible.
  • Always provide options (not many), whether it is related to food or clothing.
  • Ease the distractions so as not to confuse the patient.
  • Prevent falls by taking the necessary precautions.

Alzheimer’s can be quite difficult to deal with, especially for those affected by it. We know that it can be equally difficult for the family and close friends of the patient to come to terms with the sudden change, but don’t give up. Be strong and provide emotional as well as mental support to the patient.

For any more doubts or queries about this condition, feel free to ping us in the comments box provided below.

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Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

When to see a doctor for Alzheimer’s?

If you notice any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease that are listed in the article, visit your doctor immediately. Early detection can help prevent your condition from deteriorating further.

Will my new Alzheimer’s symptoms affect how I manage my other health conditions?

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – like cognitive changes, impaired judgment, and memory loss – can make it difficult to treat other health conditions.

How will my disease likely progress over time?

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s worsen over time. However, the rate at which it deteriorates can vary from person to person.

References

1. “2016 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures.” Alzheimer’s and Dementia, US National Library of Medicine.
2. “Ginkgo Biloba for Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, US National Library of Medicine.
3. “Role of Vitamin E in the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease: Evidence from Animal Models” International Journal Of Molecular Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
4. “The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview” Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, US National Library of Medicine.
5. “The effects of long-term omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cognition and Alzheimer’s pathology in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, US National Library of Medicine.