Alzheimer’s disease: Symptoms, stages, causes, and treatment

Genetic testing

In some cases, genetic testing may be appropriate.

A gene known as the APOE-e4 is associated with higher chances of people over the age of 55 years developing Alzheimer’s.

Using this test early could indicate the likelihood of someone having or developing the disease. However, the test is controversial, and the results are not entirely reliable.

In the future, emerging biological tests may make it possible to assess for biomarkers in people who may be at risk of Alzheimer’s.

Treatment

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s. The death of brain cells cannot be reversed.

However, there are therapeutic interventions that can make it easier for people to live with the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the following are important elements of dementia care:

  • effective management of any conditions occurring alongside the Alzheimer’s
  • activities and day-care programs
  • involvement of support groups and services

Drug therapy

No disease-modifying drugs are available for Alzheimer’s disease, but some options may reduce the symptoms and help improve quality of life.

Cholinesterase inhibitors that are approved for symptomatic relief in the U.S. include:

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Tacrine (Cognex)

A different kind of drug, memantine (Namenda), an NMDA receptor antagonist, may also be used, alone or in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor.

Other therapy

The need for quality-of-life care becomes more important as the person becomes less able to live independently.

Results of a mouse study, published in Nature, suggested in 2016 that It may one day be possible to restore memories for people with early Alzheimer’s.

Causes and risk factors

Like all types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is caused by brain cell death. It is a neurodegenerative disease, which means there is progressive brain cell death that happens over time.

In a person with Alzheimer’s, the tissue has fewer and fewer nerve cells and connections.

Autopsies have shown that the nerve tissue in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s has tiny deposits, known as plaques and tangles, that build up on the tissue.

The plaques are found between the dying brain cells, and they are made from a protein known as beta-amyloid.

The tangles occur within the nerve cells, and they are made from another protein, called tau.

Researchers do not fully understand why these changes occur. Several different factors are believed to be involved.

The Alzheimer’s Association has produced a journey of 16 slides that visualizes what happens in the process of developing Alzheimer’s disease. You can access it here.

Risk factors

Unavoidable risk factors for developing the condition include:

  • aging
  • a family history of Alzheimer’s
  • carrying certain genes

Modifiable factors that may help prevent Alzheimer’s include:

  • getting regular exercise
  • maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system
  • managing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure
  • following a varied and healthful diet
  • participating in lifelong learning and cognitive training

Some studies suggest that staying mentally and socially engaged may possibly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Factors that increase the risk include:

  • undergoing severe or repeated traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
  • exposure to some environmental contaminants, such as toxic metals, pesticide, and industrial chemicals

To reduce the risk of TBI-related dementia, it is important always to wear a safety belt when traveling by car, to take precautions when playing contact sports, and to following health instructions and guidelines to ensure sufficient rest and recovery if an injury does occur.

A moderate TBI appears to double the risk of having dementia, while a severe TBI increases it 4.5 times.

SOURCE: Medical News Today

 

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