One in ten people over 65 have Alzheimer's Disease. Almost 19 million Americans suffer from this progressively incapacitating sickness. Many more are affected as the growing burden of care impacts family and other carers.
What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's syndrome is a degenerative neurological disorder characterized by memory loss and declining thinking skills.
It is the most common example of a family of brain and memory disorders called "dementia".
Typically, Alzheimers results in :
The cause of Alzheimer's is not yet known but many experts believe the origins are primarily genetic.
Alzheimers is usually (but not always) associated with old age.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimers?
The onset of Alzheimers is usually presented with symptoms of forgetfulness, such as we commonly associate with growing old. What distinguishes Alzheimers is the progressively deepening severity of memory loss - to the point that victims eventually forget normal daily routines and the most basic tasks.
For instance, Alzheimer patients may forget how to hold and use cutlery for eating. Others forget the basics of personal hygiene - like how to brush their teeth, wash or bathe.
Some experts believe the degeneration may even extend to loss of the basic survival drills which we retain at the subconscious level - ultimatey even how to breathe.
It is difficult to distinguish the initial signs of Alzheimers from common forgetfulness.
But what may start with simple forgetting of names and faces will progress to ever more profound difficulties, eventually leaving the victim completely incapacitated.
Who is affected by Alzheimer's disease?
Although there are cases of Alzheimer's afflicting people in their 30s, most patients are over age 65. Amongst those over 85 the disease is common.
In addition to advancing age, it seems that a family history of dementia may predispose to the disease. So a genetic defect seems the likely common factor in susceptibility to Alzheimer's.
People not in the habit of mental pursuits, or those engaged in work requiring little mental effort, are more likely to develop Alzheimers than those habitually flexing their mental muscles.
In fact, one of the key strategies to prevent or retard the onset of dementia is to exercise the brain constantly, especially during old age.
Seniors retired from work are advised to actively employ their minds by following mental pursuits such as reading, solving crossword puzzles and playing word and board games.
How can we diagnose Alzheimer's Disease?
Not as simple as you might imagine. Other than autopsy, there is no unambiguous, positive test for Alzheimers yet available.
It can be quite challenging to differentiate the early signs of dementia from natural forgetfulness.
Some Alzheimer symptoms (e.g. slow reasoning and forgetfulness) could also be caused by quite different problems including:
So, to diagnose Alzheimer's syndrome, doctors must first test to exclude alternative conditions presenting similar symptoms, and then go through a series of Alzheimer diagnostics which, in combination, assemble a cumulative picture.
Unfortunately, the only 100% conclusive way to determine the presence of Alzheimer's remains post-mortem examination of brain tissue samples.
Hopefully, improved diagnostic tests for Alzheimers can be developed because palliative medication is more effective when applied early.
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