Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia, a group of syndromes characterized by a wide variety of cognitive, behavioral and physical symptoms contributed to progressive, degenerative brain disease. Of all the cases of dementia that strike older adults over the age of 65 years, 50-60% are contributed to Alzheimer’s disease.
The Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
The symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease were first identified in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer. Dr. Alzheimer described the behavior of a 56 years old woman who initially exhibited rapid memory loss, disorientation, and the inability to recognize objects she had recently named. The woman experienced confusion in recognizing written words as well as in forming sentences and phrases. Eventually the woman became bedridden dying nearly 4 ½ years later.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include periods of memory loss and confusion, moments of forgetting family members or close friends, depression and irrational fear and anxiety. Lack of energy, initiative and spontaneity may also occur. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses an individual will increasingly experience lapse in memory and will lose the ability to manage finances or household activities without assistance. The individual may become agitated and restless, pacing and wandering, and may begin to repeat themselves verbally. Mood swings and verbal aggression, impaired judgment and decision-making usually motivate family members to seek medical attention for their loved one, resulting in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia. An individual with Alzheimer’s disease will eventually lose all ability to communicate and will become completely dependent on caregivers. At this point in the progression of the disease it may be necessary for a caregiver to admit a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease into a long term-care facility. Keeping an individual with Alzheimer’s disease comfortable and managing pain becomes the focus as end of life approaches.
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The Causes and Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease
A formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can only be given after an autopsy of the brain confirms the presence of small filament-like structures that are found woven through the nerve cells in the brain. However, the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still unknown. Experts have identified several factors that seem to raise the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease. Factors such as genetics, environment, lifestyle choices, and diet have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Genetics are especially likely in early onset Alzheimer’s disease which strikes people between the ages of 30 and 60. Family members of individuals with early onset Alzheimer’s disease have a 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease themselves. Genetics may also be at work in individuals who develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The apoliprotein E (APOE) gene, specifically in the form of APOE ε4 is present in nearly 40% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are looking into the possibility of other genetic factors.
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Several lifestyle and environmental factors likely play a role in the development or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Some of those are diet, exercise, social activities and mental stimulation. Researchers have found a link between chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dunne, A (2010) Nutrition and Dementia. Nursing and Residential Care, 12 (3), 112-116.
Chapman, D. P., Williams, S. M., Strine, T. W., Anda, R. F. & Moore, M. J. (2006) Dementia and its implications for public health. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health, Research, and Policy, 3(2), 1-13. Retrieved on September 10, 2010 from http://www.cdc.gov/PCD/issues/2006/apr/pdf/05_0167.pdf
Morris, M.C. (2009) The role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease: Ep9idemiological evidence. European Journal of Neurology, 16, 1-7.