Alzheimer’s disease (AD), also called Alzheimer disease, and simply known as Alzheimer’s, is a neurodegenerative disease that, in its most common form, is found in people over 65 years old. Alzheimer’s disease has been identified as a protein misfolding disease, or proteopathy, due to the accumulation of abnormally folded A-beta and tau proteins in the brains of AD patients.
Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent type of dementia in the elderly and affects almost half of all patients with dementia. Alzheimer’s is a major public health challenge since the median age of the industrialized world’s population is increasing gradually.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
There is a great deal of optimism that early screening and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease will result in treatments that may reduce some of the risk factors. At the time of a diagnosis, an individual is not necessarily in the early stage of the disease; he or she may have progressed beyond the early stage.
Accordingly; for most of the twentieth century, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease was reserved for individuals between the ages of 45 and 65 who developed symptoms of dementia. In most people with the disease the increasing impairments in learning and memory will lead to diagnosis, while in a small proportion of them language, executive or visuoconstructional difficulties will be more salient.
However, a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease as a particular cause of dementia must await microscopic examination of brain tissue; which generally occurs at autopsy and less often with a pre-mortem brain biopsy. Careful neuropsychological testing can reveal mild cognitive difficulties even eight years before a person fullfils clinical criteria of diagnosis.
Symptoms of AD include memory loss, language deterioration, impaired ability to mentally manipulate visual information, poor judgment, confusion, restlessness, and mood swings. But treatments for symptoms, combined with the right services and support, can make life better for the millions of Americans living with Alzheimer’s. 30% of the patients also develop illusionary misidentifications and other delusional symptoms. All these symptoms probably make this stage the most stressful of all for relatives and caretakers, increasing the likelihood of ending home care.
Traditional medical treatment may depend on the developmental stage of the disease. Treatment modalities include counseling, psychotherapy (if cognitive functioning is adequate), reminiscent therapy, reality orientation therapy, and behavioral reinforcements as well as cognitive rehabilitation training. Treatment includes relieving the patient’s symptoms and alleviating stress on care givers through support groups and counseling services.
The average course of the disease from the time it is diagnosed to death is about 6 to 8 years. Alzheimer’s disease cannot be definitely diagnosed until after death, when the brain can be closely examined for certain microscopic changes caused by the disease. Alzheimer’s disease has a tremendous impact at any age. With new treatment its more important than ever that you recognize early symptoms and get help as soon as possible.