Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and mostly affects people over the age of 65 years old. It is caused by the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, reduced levels of neurological chemicals (neurotransmitters) and shrinkage of different parts of the brain over time. These lead to problems with memory, language and performing tasks that the person had previously been able to do.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease which means it worsens over time. Early symptoms can include;
· Memory loss, for example misplacing things, forgetting recent events, repeating themselves or asking questions repetitively
· Periods of confusion
· Changes in behaviour or mood, for example increased anxiety, irritability, mood swings, paranoia and suspicion of those close to them.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the problems with memory, behaviour changes and mood worsen. There may also be problems with sleep and they may experience delusions (strongly believing things that are not true) or hallucinations (seeing things that other people cannot see).
Other later symptoms include worsening of behaviour and psychological symptoms including increased agitation and aggression. End stage symptoms can include eating and swallowing difficulties, and subsequent weight loss. Problems moving around, and incontinence can also accompany the latter stages.
People with Alzheimer’s generally require increasing support with daily activities and may need full time care as the disease progresses.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there are ways to try to slow disease progress and manage symptoms.
There are two main types of medication used to help treat symptoms;
· Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors like donepezil and rivastigmine which can be used from earlier stages of the disease.
· Memantine can be used by people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s and can be used in conjunction with AChE inhibitors.
Getting older is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, however it is important to note that it is not a part of normal ageing.
Ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia include;
· Regular exercise (2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise is recommended each week)
· Balanced diet including daily fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Include oily fish twice a week
· Stop smoking
· Reduce alcohol to under 14 units a week, and have some alcohol-free days
· Keep mentally active by learning new skills, reading, doing puzzles and socialising
· Seek help for and treat any other medical conditions early, for example, depression, hearing loss or sleep problems.
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