What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects 44 million people worldwide. It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60–70% of cases.

The most noticeable early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events (short-term memory loss). As the illness progresses, symptoms include confusion, irritability and mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, impaired judgment, and misplacing things.

In addition to these problems with mental function, Alzheimer’s patients gradually have more difficulty walking and moving around. While some individuals have mild or no symptoms at first while the disease silently progresses, Alzheimer’s disease can progress to where individuals lose the ability to walk, communicate, or swallow. Eventually, patients need full-time care. An estimated 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease as of 2015.

In terms of funding for research and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, more money is spent on cancer than any other disease in America with a total of $6 billion – second only to heart disease which receives a whopping $10 billion per year from both governmental and private sectors according to 2010 figures from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It was just recently announced that President Obama signed into law a bill that would provide another $122 million in funding for Alzheimer’s Disease research as well as increasing the number of Alzheimer’s clinical trials.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease:

According to the National Institute of Aging, Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease in which neurons or nerve cells in a specific part of your brain degenerate and die, causing loss of memory and other intellectual abilities.

Scientists believe that certain gene markers placed on chromosomes 1, 14, and 21 can predispose you to develop this dreaded disease. In addition to the genetic component, there are lifestyle factors that can also contribute to an individual’s susceptibility towards developing Alzheimer’s Disease. These factors include:

1) Having Diabetes

2) Consuming Excess Calories

3) Being Overweight

4) Not Exercising

5) Drinking Alcohol

6) Suffering from Head Trauma

7) Having Heart Problems

8) Using Certain Prescription Medications

9) Having Thyroid Disease

10) Lack of Sleep

11) Vitamin B12 Deficiency

12) Living in a High Traffic Area

With Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms usually become noticeable after age 60. People with family histories of Alzheimer’s may begin to show symptoms as early as their forties and fifties. While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, recent research has produced medications that may help slow down the degeneration process and diminish memory loss. The most promising breakthroughs have been in treating milder stages of the disease before major symptoms set in.

Alzheimer’s risk factors:

Being Overweight – Being overweight is one of those lifestyle factors which can increase your susceptibility towards developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Excessive Alcohol Intake – Drinking excessive alcohol can contribute to several health problems, including Alzheimer’s Disease. In addition, if you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, alcoholism will only worsen the condition.

Suffering from Diabetes – Suffering from diabetes adds another risk factor towards developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Using Various Prescription Medications – Several prescription medications add to an individual’s susceptibility towards developing Alzheimer’s; these include the corticosteroids (such as prednisone) and certain cancer drugs such as methotrexate and procarbazine. If you use any of these medications and plan on conceiving children in the future, tell your doctor about it and he may offer alternatives.

Having Thyroid Disease – If you suffer from any thyroid disease, including an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, you are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Having Head Trauma – Those who have been injured in a motor vehicle accident or involved in a serious fall may be at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. In these situations, head trauma can result in the generation of harmful chemicals that could damage brain cells and lead to this condition.

Lack of Sleep – Alzheimers patients often report having trouble sleeping. This is because their brains do not “turn off” during sleep as they normally would; instead, it remains active for most of the night causing their memory loss to worsen daybreak. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about it and he may recommend a sleep study or prescribe medication to help you get some rest.

Types of Alzheimer’s disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is a general term for several types of dementia. Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease share the same symptoms and characteristics, but there are three main types:

1) Senile Dementia –

This type accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of all people with Alzheimer’s Disease. It is characterized by progressive memory loss that results in personality changes (such as becoming more irritable or withdrawn).

With this type, early symptoms include problems remembering new information such as storing away items like keys or ways to get home from familiar locations; forgetting the names of acquaintances; and misplacing belongings.

Also common among people with the senile form are forgetting one’s personal history including childhood events and milestones and everyday household chores. As the disease progresses, the patient may become unable to recognize their spouse or children. Behavioral changes are also common, with eating problems leading to weight loss being one of the most prominent symptoms.

2) Presenile Dementia –

Also known as Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, this type is characterized by impaired brain function that runs in families and develops before age 65. This form accounts for about 10 percent to 15 percent of all cases.

Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, trouble speaking or swallowing plus vision problems, urinary incontinence, and motor control issues such as tremors or stiffness in their arms or legs. Like those with senile dementia, early signs of presenile dementia include forgetting the names of acquaintances; misplacing belongings; and having trouble recalling recent events or conversations.

3) Secondary Dementia –

This type is caused by a problem other than Alzheimer’s Disease that leads to dementia symptoms such as those listed above. (Examples include stroke, brain tumors, or other neurological diseases).

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:

Symptoms associated with all three types of Alzheimer’s Disease include poor judgment; getting lost in familiar surroundings; forgetting names of objects like colors and words; speaking incoherently (such as making up words); not knowing the location of common things like furniture or appliances, and engaging in potentially hazardous activities without regard for possible consequences.

As the disease progresses, patients may experience hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. In addition, other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease include severe anxiety; depression; withdrawal from social situations; and agitation.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:

Mental symptoms:

cognitive symptoms:- difficulty in remembering new information, disorientation (e.g., getting lost or going to an unusual place), forgetting recent events (short-term memory loss), poor judgment, increased social withdrawal, suspiciousness, misplacing things frequently.

People with Alzheimer’s may also experience personality changes; display uncharacteristic aggression; act eccentrically, or show signs of depression. Problems with speech are often one of the first noticeable symptoms in those affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.

An individual may struggle to find words or may repeat themselves without being aware they are doing so. Eventually, some people affected by the disease will not be able to communicate at all; however, this stage is generally reached towards the end of the disease’s progression. As language skills deteriorate, individuals may find it difficult to follow conversations or tell stories. The most common early symptom is difficulty remembering names when meeting new people.

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