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Alzheimer’s Disease: Is it a normal part of ageing?

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a serious condition which impacts a person's psychological and behavioural characteristics. It is a type of mental decline in thinking, memory and emotion, that may interfere with a person's daily life and ability to complete tasks in the long run. In contrast to popular belief, Alzheimer's Disease is not a normal part of ageing. This condition will not improve on its own over time and requires appropriate medical attention. Some signs and symptoms include:

  • Forgetfulness of recent information
  • Significant memory loss
  • Confusion with location or passage of time
  • Difficulty in communication of thoughts and feelings
  • Difficulty in completing daily tasks
  • Changes in personality and mood
  • Withdrawal from public events or social engagements

Alzheimer's Disease VS Dementia: Is there a difference?

Alzheimer's Disease is a specific disease which causes dementia. Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.

What causes Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease occurs when there is a lapse in normal function of brain proteins, which results in disruption of work done by the brain cells and triggers harmful events. As these brain cells are damaged, they may lose connections to each other and eventually die. Although the exact cause of Alzheimer's disease cannot be pinpointed exactly, it is believed that it is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.

What are the risk factors of Alzheimer's disease?

The risk of Alzheimer's disease is increased for those who:

  • Have advanced age
  • Have family history of Alzheimer's disease
  • Have personal history of cardiovascular disease
  • Have down syndrome
  • Have previously sustained head injuries
  • Lead sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles

How is Alzheimer's Disease diagnosed?

A. Health Review

During a health review, a medical professional is likely to ask questions about a person's past and current health. Information about symptoms, existing or past medical conditions, mental state, consumption of any drugs or medicine, as well as any personal or family history of the condition, can be gathered to assess overall health and identify health issues that can cause symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

As details that do not fit with a person's former level of function can point to Alzheimer's disease, family members or friends of the affected person may also be asked to explain how their thinking skills, functional abilities and behaviours may have changed over time.

B. Mental Cognitive Status Test

A mental cognitive status test assesses memory, thinking and simple problem-solving abilities, by observing a person's awareness and interaction with their surroundings. The scores on these tests will then be used to evaluate a person's degree of mental and cognitive impairment. There are three commonly-used mental cognitive status tests:

  • Mini-Mental State Examination

– During this examination, a medical professional asks a series of questions designed to test a range of everyday mental skills.

  • Mini-Cognitive Examination

– After being shown three common objects, a person is expected to remember and name the objects a few minutes later.

– A person will be asked to draw a face of a clock showing all 12 numbers in the correct places, and a specified time.

C. Neurological Examination

A neurological exam involves checking a person's nervous system for red flags to evaluate any problems that may signal brain disorders. It may consist of a test on motor function, balance, coordination and reflexes, as well as an evaluation of the nerves in the brain by testing the person's five senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.

D. Radiological Tests

  • CT Scan

– A procedure that uses X-rays to generate three-dimensional images of brain changes, which are common in the later stages of Alzheimer's disease

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

– A procedure that uses radiofrequency waves in a strong magnetic field to generate two- and three-dimensional images of the brain, to show brain changes that are linked to Alzheimer's disease or detect a tumor or a stroke which may have caused symptoms that look like Alzheimer's disease

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

– A procedure that uses radioactive substances to detect abnormalities in the brain.

hy is it important to screen for Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a common condition that affects approximately 60% to 70% of the 50 million people worldwide with dementia. Discovering Alzheimer's Disease in its early stages is especially important as it is a condition that will not improve on its own over time. In the late stages of Alzheimer's disease, brain changes can also affect physical functions and cause complications in swallowing, balance, and bowel and bladder control.

Can Alzheimer's Disease be treated?

Illustration of medicine for Alzheimer’s disease

Although there is currently no known and proven treatment to cure Alzheimer's disease, steps can be taken to slow the development of the condition, manage the symptoms of the condition and maintain brain health.

A. Medications

Medications may be prescribed to prevent and slow further progression of the disease and symptoms. Additionally, they may help people with Alzheimer's disease maximize function and maintain independence temporarily.

B. Lifestyle Changes

A sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle can cause problems with Alzheimer's disease. By making positive changes to your lifestyle choices, it may be possible to lower the risk of the condition effectively without the use of any treatment:

  • Regular physical activity

– By exercising, one can reduce chances of cardiovascular disease, a risk factor of Alzheimer's disease.

  • Diet changes and adjustments

– Eating a diet of fresh produce, healthy oils and foods low in fat ensures brain health.

  • Staying mentally and socially active

C. Therapies and Activities

  • Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST)

– Cognitive stimulation therapy involves taking part in group activities and exercises designed to improve memory and problem-solving skills.

  • Cognitive Rehabilitation

– Cognitive rehabilitation encourages a person to working with a trained professional and a friend or family member to achieve a personal goal.

  • Reminiscence and Life Story Work

– Reminiscence work involves talking about things and events from your past; Life story work involves a compilation of photos, notes and keepsakes throughout a person's life.

For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.