Written by Nina Donald
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder and is the most common cause of dementia, the name given to a group of symptoms which include problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.
The symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s are often initially dismissed as a normal part of aging; they are not. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older, with the risk doubling once you surpass 80.
It’s important to note that AD is a progressive disease, which gradually worsens over time. Although you can employ certain exercises and take medication to temporarily slow the worsening of the disease, it is ultimately irreversible and as yet there is no known cure. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer's is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer's changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer's advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes. Deepening confusion about events occurs, which often leads to baseless suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers. In the later stages, more serious memory loss and behavior changes take over and the person will have difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
On a scientific level, the catalyst for the development of Alzheimer’s is the destruction of nerve cells in the brain; this is what causes the personality changes and memory loss displayed in Alzheimer’s patients. Scientists are not exactly sure why this occurs, but two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells. Most experts believe these structures somehow play a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting processes that cells need to survive.
Thankfully, at present, Alzheimer’s research is at the forefront of biomedical research worldwide. Some of the most remarkable progress has shed light on how Alzheimer's affects the brain, and the hope is that this better understanding will lead to new treatments.