What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Dementia is not a disease, but rather a group of symptoms involving an impaired cognitive function. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting roughly 500,000 people in the UK. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, which means that the symptoms are caused by disturbances in the communication between the brain’s nerve cells, due to the degeneration and death of nerve cells.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms appear gradually, and over time they become more and more severe. This weakens a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. The disease affects various parts of the brain as well as various brain functions.
The symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Language and communication problems
- A decrease in or loss of ability to pay attention or to stay focused
- Confusion or disorientation
- A change in personality, e.g. aggressive behavior or increased suspicion
- Low mood or anxiety
- Difficulties with planning or organizing
What are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by disturbances of the protein metabolism in the brain. Two types of protein are accumulated in the brain in persons who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The first type is known as Tau protein, and it is located inside the nerve cells. Tau creates insoluble tangled fibers called neurofibrillary tangles. The other protein is called beta-amyloid. When this protein is accumulated in the brain, protein fragments called amyloid plaques are formed between the nerve cells. Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are harmful to nerve cells as they lead to the loss of connections between them and eventually to the death of them. This nerve damage is irreversible and it causes a reduced function of the affected part of the brain. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the area called the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, is often affected first.
What are the risk factors of Alzheimer's disease?
Factors which might increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Age. The disease mainly affects people over 65.
- Genetic inheritance
- Severe head injuries, e.g. severe concussions
- Lifestyle factors, e.g. cardiovascular diseases
What are the treatments for Alzheimer's disease?
There is no currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but several types of medication which can help alleviate the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease are available. Over time, a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease might need more assistance in the home. This might involve changes to regular everyday activities, with the purpose of improving the person’s independence and ability to take care of him- or herself, despite the impaired cognitive function.
Even though there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it is an area of extensive research. The goal is to find a cure or a preventive treatment for the disease.