Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is typically considered an age related disease. As someone ages, some short-term memory loss can be expected. Not everyone with short-term memory loss will develop Alzheimer’s Disease and unless other symptoms develop, your doctor will not be concerned about it.

Alzheimer’s disease is a slowly progressing condition. Over time, the disorder changes and claims more and more of a person’s ability to thrive. Many people who have witnessed the progression of the disease refer to it as watching someone age backwards. This is because the disease slowly claims the basic ability of a person to function, and eventually claims their ability to perform life sustaining actions.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease loses the ability to thrive in life and eventually dies from internal system failure.

What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Your doctor will become concerned about the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease if you have the following symptoms.

Symptoms include

  • Forgetting entire experiences
  • Forgetting what their car looks like
  • Forgetting they know a particular person
  • Changes in the way a person thinks
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in personality

Usually, the family of an affected person notices that something isn’t right first. Over time, the affected person begins to realize that something isn’t right.

Mild Alzheimer’s Disease

A person with mild Alzheimer’s disease may have little to no symptoms.

Mild symptoms include

  • Avoiding situations that are unfamiliar or offer new experiences
  • Slowed learning ability and possible delayed reaction
  • May begin speaking slower than previously
  • Begins making inappropriate decisions and exercises poor judgement in situations
  • May exhibit symptoms of depression, irritability, restlessness, and have increasingly severe mood swings.

These symptoms may not always be present. These are classified as symptoms that come and go. Usually, they are worse in situations the person is unfamiliar with.

During this stage, the affected person may have a type of memory loss referred to as mild cognitive impairment. People who have mild cognitive impairment or other type of dementia are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is not definitive that all patients with MCI will develop dementia.

Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease is typically when family and friends are certain that something is not right with their loved one. It is also the stage where families are no longer in denial about the disorder.

Moderate symptoms include

  • Difficulty recognizing familiar people, including friends and loved ones
  • Extremely restless, exhibiting more memory loss in the afternoon into the evening. This is typically referred to as sundowning.
  • Develops difficulty with common things, such as reading, writing, and recognizing numbers.
  • May develop difficulty in dressing on their own.
  • Is unable to work appliances that require simple manipulation, such as the microwave.

Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

People with severe Alzheimer’s Disease typically require around the clock care. This is because the severe symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease involve losing the ability to perform tasks necessary to sustain life.

Severe symptoms include

  • Inability to remember simple tasks like how to eat, bathe, or dress one’s self.
  • Inability to use the restroom independently.
  • Difficulty balancing or walking. Falls become more frequent.
  • No longer understands when to chew or swallow.
  • Over time becomes more confused and sundowning becomes more frequent.
  • Difficulty sleeping at night
  • Slowly loses the ability verbally communicate.
  • Over time loses the ability to control bowels or bladder, also known as incontinence.

It is not uncommon for these symptoms to be present in other disorders. There are many disorders that carry these exact symptoms and possible misdiagnosis is possible and happens frequently.

Alzheimer’s Disease Causes

Alzheimer’s disease usually occurs in older adults, and age is a major cause of the condition. Experts understand that certain changes to the brain which occur as we age can contribute to the damage seen in brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

These changes include:

  • Shrinkage of parts of the brain, known as atrophy
  • Inflammation of brain tissue
  • Increased production of ‘free radicals’ which are unstable molecules
  • Reduced energy production within brain cells

However, it is also believed that genetics contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. With late-onset Alzheimer’s, which tends to occur in individuals in their mid-60s, scientists have identified genes which can increase or decrease the risk of an individual developing Alzheimer’s. With early-onset Alzheimer’s, which can occur in individuals as young as the mid-30s, the disease has a clear hereditary factor; those with a parent who had early-onset Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop it themselves.

Health, lifestyle and environmental factors may also play roles in the cause of Alzheimer’s. It is believed that there is a relationship between dementia and conditions related to the vascular system, such as stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease, and conditions related to the metabolism, such as obesity and diabetes.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease depends on a person’s symptoms, and is different from person to person. There is no cookie-cutter treatment for the disease.

Treatment is determined based on the following criteria

  • What specific care does this patient need at this time?
  • Who will be present at all times to take care of this patient?
  • Who will be present to take care of this patient in the future and as the disease progresses?
  • What can loved ones expect as the disease progresses over time?
  • What kind of planning does the family need to complete?
  • How much help can the family afford?
  • What outside help will the family need to accommodate the condition?

After these questions are answered, the doctor will begin creating a care plan for the patient. Regular check-ups, medications to help treat symptoms, and assistance that will allow the patient to remain as independent as possible, for as long as possible.

The majority of treatment focused toward Alzheimer’s disease is symptom management. Since there is no cure, doctors try to manage symptoms and control the most troubling parts of the disease as long as possible. However, with current medical restrictions, doctors are limited in the care they can give.

Over time, it may become necessary for the patient to live in an assisted living center where qualified personnel can care for them around the clock.

Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

There is still a great deal of research to be done to fully understand how we can reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, it is understood that physical exercise could help to prevent the disease because it works to increase blood flow and oxygen throughout the brain, which could help to reduce the age-related changes that occur in the brain. Furthermore, since Alzheimer’s has been linked with vascular disease, exercise might also help to alleviate the risk of conditions such as stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure which could further stave off the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Experts also believe that a healthy diet could help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There is no single diet which is deemed the most effective, but two which might be beneficial are the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet.

The DASH diet promotes:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Fish and poultry
  • Whole grains, seeds, nuts and beans
  • Limited sodium, processed sugars and red meat

The Mediterranean diet promotes:

  • Whole grains and nuts
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Limited red meat
Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
June 02, 2018