What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease [AD] is a continual loss of mental capabilities in humans which occurs with advancement in age. In this condition, the affected person tends to forget normal things of routine nature like the what he had for breakfast in the morning and subsequently it progresses to a stage where the person forgets what day of the months it is, forgets his way to his house, the neighborhood etc. As this condition progresses further, the ability to perform even the basic functions of daily life is restricted and slowly it may even lead to death.

How was Alzheimer’s disease discovered?

A German doctor, Alois Alzheimer working as a Neuro-pathologist and Psychiatrist, is credited with the discovery of this condition. In 1901 while working in a Frankfurt hospital, Alois Alzheimer came across a 51 year old lady patient who showed unusual symptoms like, when he asked her question she gave unrelated replies and most of the times stopped midway and could not complete her sentence as if she was ‘lost’. Alzheimer found this condition very different from normal forgetfulness associated with age. He interviewed her over a period of 5 years and in 1906 she passed away.  As the Head of Anatomy laboratory Alzheimer received her brain for further analysis and while analyzing, he discovered some unusual strains or lesions in her brain, massive loss of nerve cells or neurons, plaque and unknown composition. Alois remained captivated with this condition and finally in 1911 published his findings on it and hence the name ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’ due to his immense research and findings. 

What are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease?

No single cause can be attributed. This condition is a result of many factors. The most important being, genetic or heredity factors, lack of formal education and Trauma/Injury in early life, lifestyle factors like dietary habits and obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes etc. In short, presence of many factors may be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the Risk factors for Alzheimer’s?

Ongoing and detailed research has provided many answers to this condition and one of the important factors is AGE along with instances of family history [Genetic]. Women more often than men are likely to be affected as women generally tend to live longer than men. The other risk factor being, high trauma or injury to the head, at an early age. The use of certain drugs which are non steroidal and anti inflammatory [NSAIDS] also influence the impact of Alzheimer ’s. Normally this condition is associated with degeneration of brain cells with the advancement of age but sometimes it can affect at the age of 40 and 50 also, depending upon the lifestyle habits.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia or memory loss is closely associated with Alzheimer’s. Other symptoms include:

  1. Memory Loss:Though it is normal for someone to forget things occasionally it raises warning bells if forgetfulness becomes a habit.
  2. Language barrier:When it becomes difficult to communicate and more difficult in expressing the thoughts.
  3. Forgetting numbers:Forgetting important contacts and all numerical functions.
  4. Forgetting daily routine:Like dressing properly and unable to dress according to the weather.
  5. Toilet Functions:Unable to perform proper toileting and need supervision.
  6. Less Mobility:Help and supervision needed to perform daily and routine functions.
  7. No coordination:No coordination between action and wants.

To sum up, slow degeneration in performing daily activities, need of help and supervision and complete disorientation with the surroundings which are fatal signs and may lead to death due to accidents.


How is it diagnosed clinically? Are there specialists for the same?

At present there is no single test to determine Alzheimer’s disease. First of all, the doctor has to determine that the memory loss is abnormal and establish the pattern of the symptoms fit Alzheimer’s disease and this requires specialized memory testing. Other illnesses showing similar signs like vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, depression, thyroid disorder, alcohol abuse, side effect of certain medications and any other metabolic disorder are not found then Alzheimer’s Disease is to be determined, and in this family evaluation is very important where the doctor interviews the family members about the cognitive abilities of the patient along with a physical examination.

Specialist like Neurologist or Dementia or Geriatric specialists do extensive tests like medical evaluation and history, blood tests, brain scans like MRI and PET and extensive neurological and neuropsychological assessments plus dementia test by interview of family members. New techniques like Bio Markers for Alzheimer’s disease are available, but still no single test is conclusive.    

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?

There is no 100% cure available for Alzheimer’s but intensive research is continuously going on to find cures but as of now there is no drug which can prevent the continuous progression of the degeneration of the nerve cells of the brain .Certain drugs have been identified to relieve some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Due to huge funding and continuous research there is hope that someday a remedy or therapy may be available to patients suffering from this fatal condition as millions of people world over are affected and likely to be affected by this disease.

How does care giving help in case of Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is popularly called a family disease. The slow decline in the mental and physical health of a loved one affects the entire family. To take care of a patient of Alzheimer’s disease, the care giver has to look after their health first. Emotional and practical support, counseling, resource information and educational programmes are the best sources for caregivers to look after a loved one who needs all these. Through training, a caregiver in the family can learn to manage the challenging behavior, improve communication skills and keep the person with this condition ‘safe’. It is the care giver who realizes that the behavior of the loved one is not to ‘trouble’ but it is due to an underlying condition which needs love and caring and from here begins the journey of care giving to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere for the love done suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. 

Who was the most famous person to be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease?

The most famous person to be diagnosed with this condition was Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States of America for two terms beginning from 1980 to 1989. Before joining Politics Ronald Reagan was a successful Hollywood actor. After completing two terms as a President Reagan he retired from Politics and in 1994 in a handwritten letter revealed that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 10 years later in 2005 he died in his home at the age of 93.

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