Alzheimer’s

Overview

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia in adults over age 60. The disease causes normal communication pathways between brain cells to progressively deteriorate and die leading to impaired memory, language, social skills and decision making. In the late stages, patients lose the ability to have lucid thoughts and provide for their own safety and daily care. Though Alzheimer’s disease can be treated, there is no cure. Some medications can help manage the disease, but it is important that Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families seek medical and social support.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s may not be noticeable to the affected patient, but family and peers will often notice confusion and memory loss that goes beyond the norm of misplacing the keys. Alzheimer’s disease can cause forgetfulness, confusion, short-term and long-term memory loss, frequent repetition of statements, questions or entire conversations, disorientation, loss of cognitive function in areas of speaking, reading or writing, inability to plan and execute daily tasks, poor decision making skills and changes in personality or behavior. Alzheimer’s is often co-morbid with conditions such as anxiety, depression and withdrawal. Patients may experience paranoia, wild mood swings and uncharacteristic aggressiveness.

Diagnosis

Microscopic analysis of the brain is the only way to affirm completely the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. Because this cannot be done on living patients, doctors use a variety of other tools to distinguish Alzheimer’s from other types of dementia. Doctors are able to diagnose dementia based on information provided by patients and family members about daily functioning. To distinguish dementia as Alzheimer’s, doctors may: perform a physical exam testing reflexes, muscle tone and balance, perform memory and language testing, perform lab tests to rule out other physical causes and use brain imaging techniques to look for obvious brain abnormalities.

Causes

Doctors and researchers do not believe that Alzheimer’s disease has a single cause. Age, sex and genetics are important factors as older adult females with a family history of the disease are at higher risk for developing it. Those who smoke, eat a poor diet and do not stimulate and challenge the brain with activities and social interactions are at higher risk. This indicates that lifestyle choices and environmental factors may also play a role in the disease. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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