UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center
Alzheimer's Disease • Cause of Alzheimer's Disease • Alzheimer's Symptoms • Alzheimer's Association • Alzheimer's Treatment • Alzheimer's Research • Living with Alzheimer's Disease • How Family and Friends Can Help
Alzheimer's is one of the most disabling afflictions among older people. Alzheimer's is a progressive disorder that slowly kills nerve cells in the brain. Although Alzheimer's is detected more often among senior citizens, individuals as young as 50 may show signs of Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's holds no boundaries, Alzheimer's is located cross culturally and Alzheimer's is found in both sexes in equal proportions. There is no one particular test for Alzheimer's but ruling out other conditions of memory loss like small strokes, Parkinson’s disease or depression will lead to an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Using a variety of methods 90% of Alzheimer's cases can be diagnosed, 100% accuracy can only be achieved with Alzheimer's upon autopsy to check for plaques and tangles.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is named for the German neurologist Dr. Alois Alzheimer. Healthy brain tissue degenerates with Alzheimer's disease. The reasons for this phenomenon in Alzheimer's disease are unclear. This degeneration in Alzheimer's disease causes a steady memory decline as well as a steady loss of mental abilities. In America there are more than 4 million older people with Alzheimer's disease. The number of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease is expected to triple within the next 20 years.
Sufferers of Alzheimer's disease experience feelings of confusion, frustration, anger, fear, uncertainty, grief and depression. Alzheimer's disease also causes increasing and persistent forgetfulness. Disorientation becomes a part of everyday life for Alzheimer's disease patients and abstract thinking becomes difficult during Alzheimer's disease. Patients with Alzheimer's disease suffer personality changes and even have difficulty performing the familiar tasks they were able to do before the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is a gradual progression from mild to moderate to severe.
The cause of Alzheimer's disease is not well understood. Alzheimer's is a complex disease that likely caused by a number of influences. The main cause of Alzheimer's disease is damaged brain cells that die for unknown reasons. The cause of Alzheimer's disease, isolated by the German neurologist Dr. Alois Alzheimer, is the isolation of abnormal clumps and irregular brain cells. These clumps (called plaques), and knots, (called tangles) are considered the hallmark cause of Alzheimer's disease. These changes disrupt normal brain functioning and are a cause of Alzheimer's disease.
A cause of Alzheimer's disease that is being researched is the genetic role. A slow developing viral infection that results in brain inflammation may also be involved as a cause of Alzheimer's disease.
Although the actual cause of Alzheimer's disease may not be known
and the research into the cause of Alzheimer's disease are inconclusive there are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of Alzheimer development.
Age is a factor as a risk cause of Alzheimer's disease with the average age of diagnosis being about 80.
Gender is involved as a cause of Alzheimer's disease and the risk is that women are more likely than men to develop the disease probably because they live longer.
Heredity predisposition is another risk cause of Alzheimer's disease. The presence of certain defective genes and genetic mutations within families also increases the development as a risk cause of Alzheimer's disease.
Another possible cause of Alzheimer's disease is the malfunction of the immune system and protein imbalances in the brain.
Environmental factors such as aluminum presence are under investigation for the cause of Alzheimer's disease as well as the prevention of the development of the disease.
The most common Alzheimer's symptoms are loss of memory, decline in intellectual functioning and changes in personality. At the onset the Alzheimer's symptoms project as easily tired, upset and anxious. With Alzheimer's disease the changes that occur are gradual and not sudden. As the disease progresses the Alzheimer symptoms accelerate and become more serious and noticeable enough to seek help. The course of the disease and how rapidly the Alzheimer's symptoms progress from simple forgetfulness to severe dementia, can take anything from five to ten years.
For the patient the first Alzheimer's symptom that can be very frightening is the realization that something is happening to their memory. Simple forgetfulness is not an Alzheimer's symptom, however to forget the names of people you see often is an Alzheimer's symptom. The Alzheimer's symptom initiates with slight memory loss and confusion but then the Alzheimer's symptom ultimately leads to severe and irreversible mental impairment. The Alzheimer's symptom leads to destruction of a person’s ability to remember, reason, learn and imagine. Eventually this Alzheimer's symptom of forgetfulness leads to names of family members being forgotten as well as familiar objects such as a comb and watch.
- Difficulties with abstract thinking is another Alzheimer's symptom that initially begins with mundane everyday things like not balancing a check book then the Alzheimer's symptom develops into not understanding and recognizing numbers.
- Difficulty finding the right word is an Alzheimer's symptom that challenges the patient with finding the correct words for expression and challenges their ability to follow conversations. This Alzheimer's symptom progresses to affecting reading and writing skills.
- A common Alzheimer's symptom is disorientation with time and dates, even losing themselves in familiar surroundings. Eventually this Alzheimer's symptom leads to wandering from home.
- Loss of judgment is an Alzheimer's symptom that prevents solving everyday problems like cooking on the stove and this Alzheimer's symptom in its extreme to difficulty with anything that requires planning, decision-making and judgment.
- Personality change is an Alzheimer's symptom that presents in mood swings, distrust, stubbornness and social withdrawal. Depression is a coexistent Alzheimer's symptom alongside restlessness. In its severe form this Alzheimer's symptom develops into anxiety and aggressive and inappropriate behavior.
- Short-term memory is usually affected with Alzheimer's disease and dementia and they forget family names and how to perform simple everyday tasks. However, they retain long-term memory with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, remembering events from the past. The patients suffering Alzheimer's disease and dementia lose verbal communication skills, they communicate their feelings, preferences and needs through body language and facial expressions. Perception is another area affected through Alzheimer's disease and dementia as they try and fathom and interpret the world around them.
Alzheimer's care-givers can benefit enormously from attending counseling or local support groups through the auspices of the Alzheimer's Association in your local district. These Alzheimer's Association affiliates connect care-givers with support groups. The Alzheimer's Association also has access to physicians, home-care agencies and supervised living facilities. Resources, referrals and a telephone help-line are also available through the auspices of the local Alzheimer's Association. Educational seminars are another in the long line of available resources available for Alzheimer patients and their families. According to the National Alzheimer's Association,1 in 10 families have a relative with Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Association provides the following figures that 70% of the 4 million with Alzheimer's disease live at home receiving care from family members. The Alzheimer's Association also heads a national Safe Return Program, that involves an identity bracelet with the name, telephone number as well as a notation such as “memory impaired”.
Please check the links section of this website to locate the nearest local Alzheimer's Association personnel and all the programs allied to the National Alzheimer's Association.
At present there are no Alzheimer's treatments that will prevent or reverse the onset of Alzheimer's or its progression. Physicians understand the disease much more, and they use medical Alzheimer's treatment to treat many of the disease symptoms. Effective Alzheimer's treatments are not far off. It is important to consult with a qualified physician to eliminate some symptoms that mimic true Alzheimer's to distinguish between the many causes of dementia, some of which are completely treatable.
Alzheimer's treatments are available that help improve the quality of life for Alzheimer sufferers even though there is no cure to prevent the disease. Progress has been made in the last 5 years by researchers for Alzheimer's treatments. More drugs and associated genes have been discovered that may lead to new Alzheimer's treatments in order to halt the progression of this complex disease. Although there is no cure currently for the disease, the primary Alzheimer treatment is medication as well as concerned care giving.
Current medications for Alzheimer's treatment cannot reverse the disease process, but they may slow down the disease and lessen the symptoms. Alzheimer's treatment is still in its infancy, but researchers are confident that in the not too distant future, medications will successfully treat Alzheimer's symptoms.
Confidence builds for finding Alzheimer's treatment breakthrough during the next decade. Progress in understanding how the brain works has led to this confidence in drugs being approved by the FDA for Alzheimer's treatment. In addition to the search for better ways to deal with Alzheimer's treatment, a number of natural therapies are being explored. Foods containing Vitamin E and other antioxidants have also been the focus of study for Alzheimer's treatment. Stem cell research concerning bone marrow transformation to neural cells have created optimism into future Alzheimer's treatment.
Right now there is no way to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease but Alzheimer's research continues to look for ways to reduce risks of the disease. Several Alzheimer's research leads are in the hopeful but preliminary stages.
Alzheimer's research into the use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, Aleve and Indocin to reduce the risk. Conclusive Alzheimer's research in this area would provide a beneficial breakthrough. Another Alzheimer's research is the possible protective effect against Alzheimer progression with Vitamin E and selegiline hydrochloride (Eldepryl), a drug used for Parkinson’s disease. Alzheimer's research into Clioquinol may actually prevent or reverse plaques in people, as it has already done in animals.
A new drug approved, per Alzheimer's research to treat Alzheimer's, Reminyl ,(Janssen Pharmaceutica), helps in the slowing of cognitive impairment. Alzheimer's research could possibly create drugs to prevent oxidative damage in the brain and keep the brain cells healthy.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, and Alzheimer's research is focusing on the health of brain cells to efficiently handle calcium. It is possible that late onset Alzheimer's is also tied to this decreased calcium. The value of this Alzheimer's research is the fact that both forms of Alzheimer's may respond to the same drug treatment.
Alzheimer's research has led to a relation between estrogen deficiency and Alzheimer onset. Alzheimer's research focused on a large order of elderly nuns who led stimulating and intellectually challenging lives. Alzheimer's research concluded this lifelong learning and mental exercise significantly lowers the rate of Alzheimer's and delays the onset of dementia.
Alzheimer's research is in its infancy as far as genetic testing is concerned. Alzheimer's research has resulted in blood tests that can tell whether a person carries genetic mutations associated with Alzheimer's. But Alzheimer's research still cannot tell who will or will not get the disease.
Alzheimer's disease is usually very stressful for the patient's family, who frequently provides most of the care and support. However, the patient is typically unaware of his/her disorder initially.
One of the most important steps is finding a qualified physician who understands the special health needs of the elderly. A psychiatrist with special experience treating late-life mental disorders is often the first choice for an Alzheimer's patient. This type of psychiatrist has experience not only with Alzheimer's disease, but also with other mental disturbances that may result from the disease.
Alzheimer's care takes patience and can be stressful even to the most dedicated family members. (One of the important steps in Alzheimer's care is finding a qualified physician who understands the special health needs of the elderly.) It is essential for Alzheimer's care-givers to have a support resource for the other mental disturbances resulting from the disease. Alzheimer's care also requires help in the legal, financial and social issues that emanate from this disease.
The key to Alzheimer's care is to focus on things the patient still enjoys and is capable of performing. Alzheimer's care requires support and affection from friends and family for the victim as well as the Alzheimer's care giver. Alzheimer's care is an all-absorbing experience.
Alzheimer's care is a challenge because the slow and unpredictable decline is lengthy and progresses at a different pace. Common feelings during Alzheimer's care are anger, guilt, frustration, discouragement, worry, grief and social isolation. It is important with Alzheimer's care to ensure that the patient is afforded as much independence as necessary within a safe environment for as long as possible.
In order for the Alzheimer's care giver to cope, the burnout can be diluted through the following actions:
- The Alzheimer's care giver needs help from others as needed.
- The Alzheimer's care giver must take care of their own health.
- Learn as much as one can about the disease when giving Alzheimer's care
- Alzheimer's care requires help from a support group