What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disease that slowly destroys brain cells and affects an individual’s memory, cognition, judgment, learning, and ability to perform daily activities.
Alzheimer’s disease has a major impact on the health and wellbeing of Australians. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 10 Australians aged 65 and above suffer from dementia (AZ accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases) and according to the latest estimates, it is the single leading cause of disability and third leading cause of deaths for older people in Australia, behind heart diseases and cancer. It is estimated over 1 million Australians will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by the end of 2050.
Although AD is more common in older people, contrary to common belief, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Adults younger than 65 can also develop this progressive neurodegenerative syndrome also referred to as Young Onset Alzheimer’s or YOD.
Those who suffer from this progressive neurodegenerative syndrome may experience different outcomes. Some may experience mild cognitive damage and live a long time, while others may experience a rapid onset of symptoms, more complications, and early death.
There is often much confusion about the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” and people sometimes use these words interchangeably. However, both these conditions are separate disorders. Although the signs and symptoms of dementia and AD may overlap, distinguishing them is important for effective management and treatment of each.
Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of conditions (including Alzheimer’s) that affect an individual’s memory, thinking, reasoning, learning, judgment, cognition, and ability to perform everyday activities. Dementia can occur due to a variety of conditions, Alzheimer’s being the most common. Other medical conditions that can cause dementia are Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia with as many as 70-80% of all dementia cases being attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. AD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that slowly causes impairment in memory and cognitive function.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Since it is a progressive disorder, the symptoms take some time to develop and eventually become more severe in nature with the patient becoming unable to perform routine tasks and becoming totally dependent on others.
- minor memory loss
- mood changes, including anxiety and irritability
- difficulty learning new things
- difficulty processing information
- difficulty communicating clearly
- difficulty recognizing family and friends
- loss of appetite
- problems in urine/faeces
- severe disorientation
Causes and Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s is caused by the death of nerve cells and tissues throughout the brain. As the cells die, the brain tissues shrink which affects the memory, speech, and comprehension. Experts still have no idea as to why the brain cells start to die, but they have identified certain risk factors that can make you vulnerable to developing Alzheimer’s disease, these include:
- increasing age
- family history & genetics
- down syndrome
- head trauma
Are There Any Treatments That Can Help?
To date, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, once the process of brain cells damage/death has started, there is no way to reverse, slow or stop it. However, there are certain drug as well as non-drug options you can use to control symptoms and maintain your function.
- Donepezil or Rivastigmine – for early to moderate Alzheimer’s
- Memantine or Donepezil – for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s
- Anti-anxiety, anti-depression or anti-psychotics medications – for treatment of certain symptoms such as depression, anxiety, agitation, restlessness, hallucination, etc.
Besides medications, other treatments and activities are also important in helping people suffering from AD or dementia, these may include:
- Cognitive Stimulation Therapy
- Cognitive Rehabilitation
- Reminiscence work
More recently, a number of alternative treatment options such as dietary supplements, herbal products, and adjusted diet have been shown to help delay or prevent some of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, these include:
- Caprylic acid and coconut oil
- Coenzyme Q10
- Coral calcium
- Huperzine A
- Omega-3 fatty acids
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s
There is no known way to prevent Alzheimer’s as there is no cure for this progressive neurodegenerative syndrome. The only way you can prevent cognitive decline associated with AD is to adopt some healthy lifestyle habits, these may include:
- maintaining an active social life
- participating in cognitive training exercises
- eating a plant-based healthy diet
- maintaining good sleep
- consuming more antioxidants
- doing mild exercises on a daily basis
- reducing or removing tobacco and alcohol intake