Dementia is the preferred term for a loss of brain function that occurs in conjunction with certain diseases. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a form of dementia. As it progresses, AD-associated dementia gradually grows worse and impairs cognitive function. Alzheimer’s Disease can negatively impact memory, thinking, and behavior.
Memory impairment, problems with language, decision-making ability, judgment, and personality are all necessary features for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s Disease Cause, Incidence, and Risk Factors
There are still many mysteries surrounding the advent of Alzheimer’s Disease and its prevention. A person with Alzhimer’s will usually have some history of risk factors and familial ties, but the precise cause of the disease remains unknown. To help screen people with this type of dementia, researchers have identified the most common risk factors associated with AD.
Age and family history are the most common risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Advanced age. As you age, your risk of developing AD goes up. Seniors 65 and older are at higher risk of going on to develop AD. However, developing Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging, and the plaques and tangles that affect the brain are not considered standard or normal.
- Having a close blood relative. Having a parent, grandparent, or sibling who has signs of Alzheimer’s Disease increases your risk.
- Having a certain combination of genes or proteins. These genes appear to be abnormal in Alzheimer’s disease and increase your risk of living with Alzheimer’s.
Additional risk factors may include the following:
- Long-standing high blood pressure. Some preliminary research has suggested that long periods of high blood pressure is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
- History of head trauma. Head trauma may also be linked to persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Female gender. Females may have a more significant risk of developing the disease in the United States.
Early Onset and Late-Onset: The Two Known Types of Alzheimer’s
- In early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, symptoms of the condition first appear before age 60. Early-onset AD is still considered uncommon. While it may be uncommon, it may also be more severe. It tends to progress rapidly. Early-onset disease can run in families. Several genes have been identified that link early-onset AD to family medical history.
- Late-onset AD is the more common form of the disease, and it typically develops in people 60 and older. While families may possess the ability to carry genetic coding to prompt AD development, the role of genes is less clear in late-onset AD.
Although the precise cause of AD remains elusive, most researchers consider both genetic and environmental factors important in AD development. A doctor will deliver a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease only when memory problems and other symptoms are present, and there are no additional symptoms to explain the onset of dementia.
The only way to know for certain that someone has AD is to examine a sample of their brain tissue after death and search for the presence of beta-amyloid plaque.
Each of the following changes has been found in the part of the brain Alzheimer’s Disease affects:
- “Neurofibrillary tangles” or twisted protein fragments found within nerve cells that essentially “clog” the cell
- “Neuritic plaques,” or abnormal clusters of dead and dying nerve cells, other brain cells, and protein
- “Senile plaques,” or dying nerve cells’ products accumulating around a protein, creating something of “sheet” of plaque
When these plaques are present, neurons are destroyed. As neurons are lost, the chemicals that allow nerve cells to communicate are decreased. Over time, each of the different areas of the brain loses the ability to successfully communicate through neurotransmitters. Disruptions to healthy brain function are the end result.
A buildup of aluminum, lead, and other heavy metals were once believed to be a contributing cause of Alzheimer’s Disease. This is no longer the case, as the aforementioned plaques have been identified as the source of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms
AD symptoms progress as the stages of Alzheimer’s progress. Dementia causes difficulty in all of the following areas:
- Emotional Behavior (Personality)
- Cognitive Skills (Judgment Ability, Abstract Thinking, and Calculation)
Among the million people (or more) who suffer from AD, the most common symptom of AD is increased forgetfulness.
Alzheimer’s Disease Vs. Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition best described as the space between normal forgetfulness due to aging, and the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment typically present with mild issues with thinking and memory. These issues do not interfere with everyday activities. They are often aware of the forgetfulness.
Not everyone with MCI goes on to develop AD.
Symptoms of MCI include:
- Forgetting recent events or conversations
- Difficulty multitasking
- Difficulty solving problems
- Taking longer to perform more difficult activities
The early symptoms of AD can include:
- Language problems, including having a difficult time identifying the names or functions of once-familiar objects
- Misplacing items around the house or outside of the home
- Getting lost on familiar routes
- Personality changes and loss of social skills
- Losing interest in things previously enjoyed or an increase in “flat” moods
- Difficulty performing tasks that require thought but used to come easily. Balancing a checkbook, playing strategy games, and learning new information or routines are some common examples.
As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with your ability to take care of yourself.
Symptoms of progressing AD can include:
- Forgetting details about current events
- Forgetting your own life history and events from your life. You may even lose awareness of who you are.
- Changes in sleep patterns, including often waking up at night
- Difficulty reading or writing
- Increases in poor judgment and an inability to sense or determine when danger is present
- Using incorrect words or phrases, mispronouncing once-known words, or speaking in garbled or confusing sentences
- Withdrawing from social contact
- Having hallucinations and arguments or striking out and engaging in violent behavior
- Having delusions or experiencing depression and agitation
- Difficulty completing simple tasks. Preparing meals, choosing the proper clothing, and driving are among the first things to fall prey to AD.
People with severe AD can no longer:
- Understand language
- Recognize family members and friends
- Perform basic activities of daily living. People with Alzheimer’s may struggle with cooking, eating, dressing, and bathing.
- Maintain control of bodily functions. This may result in the loss of bladder or bowel control.
If you or your loved one is suffering from any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease before or after the age of 65, it is vital to enlist the evaluation and help of a medical professional. Schedule an appointment with our family practice and internal medicine provider in Rock Hill, SC, and Charlotte, NC, today to have you or your loved one evaluated.