Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and mostly affects people over the age of 65 years old. It is believed to be caused by the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, reduced levels of neurological chemicals (neurotransmitters) and causes shrinkage of different parts of the brain over time. These lead to problems with memory, language and performing tasks that the person had previously been able to do.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease which means it worsens over time. Early symptoms can include;
Memory loss, for example misplacing things, forgetting recent events, repeating themselves or asking questions repetitively
Periods of confusion
Changes in behaviour or mood, for example increased anxiety, irritability, mood swings, paranoia and suspicion of those close to them.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the problems with memory, behaviour changes and mood worsen. There may also be problems with sleep and they may experience delusions (strongly believing things that are not true) or hallucinations (seeing things that other people cannot see).
Other later symptoms include worsening of behaviour and psychological symptoms including increased agitation and aggression. End stage symptoms can include eating and swallowing difficulties, weight loss, mobility problems and incontinence.
People with Alzheimer’s generally require increasing support with daily activities and may need full time care as the disease progresses.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there are ways to try to slow disease progress and manage symptoms.
There are two main groups of medication used to help treat symptoms. The first are the acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors like Donepezil, Rivastigmine and Galantamine which can be used from earlier stages of the disease. The second is called Memantine, that can be used by people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s and can be used in conjunction with AChE inhibitors.
Getting older is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s important to note that it is not a part of normal ageing.
Ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia include;
Regular exercise (2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise is recommended each week)
Eating a balanced diet including daily fruit, vegetables and wholegrains along with oily fish twice a week
Reducing alcohol intake to under 14 units a week, and having some alcohol-free days
Keeping mentally active by learning new skills, reading, doing puzzles and socialising
Seeking help for and treating any other medical conditions early, for example, depression, hearing loss or sleep problems
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