Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. It is a progressive form of dementia, a broader term for conditions caused by brain injuries or diseases that negatively affect memory, thinking, and behavior. These changes interfere with daily living. It is important to note that while the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia are sometimes used interchangeably, the two conditions are not the same. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. Dementia is a broader term used for conditions with symptoms relating to memory loss such as forgetfulness, and confusion. It includes specific conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease etc.
Sadly, Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness and there is currently no cure for it. The average person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has an estimated lifespan of approximately four to eight years post diagnosis. However in some cases the people have been able to live with for up to 20years.
To receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, the person must have experienced a decline in cognitive or behavioral function and performance compared with how they were previously. This decline must interfere with their ability to function at work or in usual activities.
The cognitive decline must be seen in at least two of the five symptom areas listed below:
- Reduced ability to take in and remember new information, which can lead, for example, to:
- repetitive questions or conversations
- misplacing personal belongings
- forgetting events or appointments
- getting lost on a familiar route
- Impairments to reasoning, complex tasking, and exercising judgment, for example:
- poor understanding of safety risks
- inability to manage finances
- poor decision-making ability
- inability to plan complex or sequential activities
- Impaired visuospatial abilities that are not, for example, due to eye sight problems. These could be:
- inability to recognize faces or common objects or to find objects in direct view
- inability to use simple tools, for example, to orient clothing to the body
- Impaired speaking, reading and writing, for example:
- difficulty thinking of common words while speaking, hesitations
- speech, spelling, and writing errors
- Changes in personality and behavior, for example:
- out-of-character mood changes, including agitation, apathy, social withdrawal or a lack of interest, motivation, or initiative
- loss of empathy
- compulsive, obsessive, or socially unacceptable behavior
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the following options can help manage symptoms of the disease:
- medications for behavioral changes, such as antipsychotics
- medications for memory loss, which include cholinesterase inhibitors donepezil (Aricept) and rivastigmine (Exelon) and memantine (Namenda)
- alternative remedies that aim to boost brain function or overall health, such as coconut oil or fish oil
- medications for sleep changes
- medications for depression
Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease in which there are many unknowns. What is known is that the condition worsens over time, but treatment can help delay symptoms and improve quality of life of the patient.
If you think you or a loved one may have Alzheimer’s, your first step is to talk with your doctor. They can help make a diagnosis, discuss what you can expect, and help connect you with services and support. And if you’re interested, they can also give you information about taking part in clinical trials.
The World Alzheimer’s day celebration is held on September 21 every year.