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Alzheimer's disease

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and mostly affects people over 65. It is believed to be caused by the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, reduced levels of neurological chemicals (neurotransmitters), and shrinkage of different parts of the brain over time. This leads to problems with memory, language and performing tasks that the person had previously been able to do.

Doctor’s advice

What are the symptoms?

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 behavior 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, behavior 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 behavior and psychological symptoms, including increased agitation and aggression. End-stage symptoms can include eating and swallowing difficulties and subsequent weight loss. Problems with moving around and incontinence can also accompany the latter stages.

People with Alzheimer’s generally require increasing support with daily activities and may need full-time care as the disease progresses.

Medications to help treat Alzheimer's

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are ways to try to slow disease progression and manage symptoms.

There are two main types of medication used to help treat symptoms;

  • Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors like donepezil and rivastigmine which can be used from earlier stages of the disease.
  • Memantine can be used by people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s and can be used in conjunction with AChE inhibitors.

Can Alzheimer's be prevented

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

  • Not smoking

  • 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 socializing

  • Seeking help for and treating any other medical conditions early, for example, depression, hearing loss or sleep problems

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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