April 14, 2020
Finding out you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease can feel devastating. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you navigate this difficult diagnosis.
Here’s an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
Getting older is one of the greatest risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Most people who have it are 65 and older. However, there is a growing number of younger Americans being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Health experts say there are also other interrelated causes that create a “cascade of dysfunction.” These include:
• Misfolded proteins
• Mitochondrial dysfunction
• Vascular disease
• Synaptic loss (the connection between nerve cells)
• Death of nerve cells
Proteins are important for cells’ survival. Misfolded proteins don’t function properly, and when they accumulate, they form plaques and tangles that damage and kill nerve cells. Dysfunction in the mitochondria that power our cells is also a risk factor. The damage and death of nerve cells lead to the memory loss, cognition problems, and personality changes.
Symptoms generally come on slowly and worsen over time to the point that daily tasks are difficult. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for longer, better quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s. Here are 10 signs to watch out for:
If you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one, it is best to schedule an evaluation by your doctor. It will typically include a physical and neurological exam that focuses on your reflexes, balance, coordination, and use of senses. A series of lab tests may also be ordered to rule out other possible causes. Brain imaging to detect specific changes in the brain are also starting to be used in clinical trials and major medical centers.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, medications like cholinesterase inhibitors are available to slow down symptoms, and a care plan can be established to allow as much independence as possible, for as long as possible. A rehabilitation program specifically tailored for Alzheimer’s patients can also help.
Regular checkups will be required to manage symptoms and to treat other related health conditions like depression or hearing and vision loss.
While there are no definitive preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s, staying physically and mentally active every day may lower the risk. This means going for daily walks, playing cards with friends, or doing a crossword puzzle.
For more information on Alzheimer’s, you can find additional resources here.