Alzheimer’s disease has been the subject of increasing research interest. It is one of the most common causes of dementia in the elderly’s. It is the most common cause of dementia and approximately 60 to 80% of all dementia cases accounts for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a disease which attacks the brain affecting memory, thinking, and behavioral pattern. It is a form of brain degeneration in which an abnormal material builds up as tangles or twisted fibers in the center of the brain cells and plaques of protein material outside the brain cells. These plaques and tangles disrupt messages inside the brain and damage the connection between brain cells. This results in the dead brain cells and eventually, no information can be remembered.
The effects of Alzheimer’s disease can be witnessed in every part of the brain. It affects all brain functions and the process of thinking and behavior are adversely affected. Also, as this disease progresses, it can lead to long term memory loss. Although the disease can affect individuals of any age, the likelihood of developing this disease increases with age and it commonly occurs after age 65.
In addition to cognitive symptoms, that constitutes the main part of the disease, coexisting behavioral, mood, anxiety and other symptoms gradually deteriorate the outcomes and makes a patient dependent on others. You must have heard
“Alzheimer’s caregivers ride the world’s biggest, fastest, scariest, emotional roller coaster every day”
– Bob DeMarco
How Alzheimer’s affect the brain?
The brain has billions of nerve cells and each nerve cell is connected to many others to form a communication network. These group of nerve cells has several jobs to do as some of them are responsible for thinking, memory, learning and some others are responsible to help us see, hear and smell. Keeping everything working normally requires coordination between the nerve cells as the functioning of these cells involves communication with other cells of the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease prevents these nerve cells to function normally and this abnormal functioning results from abundant plaques and tangles in the brain. Plaques occur when the deposit of the proteins builds up in between the nerve cells. These plaques and tangles disrupt the process of the nerve cells and this disruption causes memory failure, personality changes, anxiety problems and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are also short of some important chemicals in the brain. These chemicals act as a messenger and are responsible for transmitting signals around the brain. Whenever there is a shortage of these chemicals, the transmission of signals is interrupted and not done effectively.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
Initially, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are mild but as this disease progresses the severity of symptoms increases. Some of the symptoms of this disease include:
- Frequent memory problems
- Mood swings
- Difficulty in doing daily activities
- Deterioration of social skills
- Loss of pleasure
Most often, memory loss is the first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease but in some people, memory loss is not the first symptom. This is known as atypical Alzheimer’s disease. Although the underlying damage is the same, the first part to be affected in the brain is not the hippocampus. It is an uncommon type of Alzheimer’s disease and it is of three forms:
1. Posterior cortical atrophy – It develops when the damage occurs at the back and upper rear of the brain and it is characterized by problems in identifying objects or reading things.
2. Logopenic aphasia – It occurs due to damage to the areas on the left side of the brain that produces language.
3. Frontal variant – It occurs due to damage to the lobes at the front of the brain and it is characterized by the problems in planning and decision making.
Psychological effects of Alzheimer’s disease
Numerous researchers believe that there is a strong relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and psychological problems. Depression and anxiety problems are the most common psychiatric disorders in patients having Alzheimer’s disease, with a negative impact on patient’s quality of life.
People with Alzheimer’s disease can become anxious and agitated for many reasons. A patient with this disease may not recognize people, places or things. These people may also forget their family members or the place they live. These factors can trigger the symptoms of anxiety. Memory loss due to this disease increasingly interferes with the daily life of a patient such as a struggle to find items, forget about recent information and forget important dates.
Psychological distress is not only suffered by the patients having Alzheimer’s disease but family members of the patients are also at high risk of developing psychological distress. The amount of stress that is experienced by the caregivers or family members triggers the symptoms of psychological problems and it also depends on the severity and duration of the disease in their loved one.
Causes and risk factors
Researchers believe that failure of nerve cells is the main cause of Alzheimer’s disease but there are some factors that act as risk factors and increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
1. Age – Age is the biggest known factor that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s age. Although this disease can occur at any age but as an individual age, the risk increases. Most people who are diagnosed with this disease are 65 or older.
2. Genetics – Various studies suggest that family history is one of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. They show that people who have a relative having this disease are at increased risk of developing it.
3. Lifestyle – It is believed that certain lifestyle factors such as drinking, smoking, inactivity may also trigger the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Adopting healthy lifestyle decreases the risk of developing various diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Tags: Pathophysiology of alzheimers disease, Alzheimers disease symptoms, Alzheimers disease symptoms