While there are many forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common one. It affects up to 70 per cent of people who have dementia.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative, neurological condition caused by nerve cell death that results in the brain shrinking. As this damage progresses, it impairs memory, behaviour and thinking.
What are the risk factors?
Age seems to be the biggest risk factor, with three in 10 people over 85 having dementia. But “sporadic” dementia can affect anyone at any age. Familial Alzheimer’s disease very rare and has an age of onset of less than 65 years. There is early evidence that an unhealthy lifestyle may increase your risk too.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can include:
- Trouble finding the right words for everyday objects.
- Forgetting things often, especially recent events.
- Vagueness in conversation
- Losing enthusiasm for things you previously liked to do
- Needing longer to do everyday tasks
- Forgetting well-known people or places
- Mood changes
These symptoms can worsen as time goes on, but the rate the disease progresses is unpredictable because it varies from person to person.
How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?
After a thorough medical history is taken, a doctor or specialist will conduct a physical and neurological examination. Blood and urine tests may also be taken, and an MRI used to look for brain shrinkage. Other ways of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease include psychiatric tests and a lumbar puncture for cerebral spinal fluid tests.
Can Alzheimer’s disease be treated?
While there’s no cure, a group of drugs called cholinergic drugs can help improve brain function and behavioural symptoms in some people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. A GP may also prescribe drugs such as antidepressants.
Are there other things that might help?
Researchers believe exercise may delay or lessen the disease as well as slow the rate of cognitive decline in healthy people.
Cardiovascular exercise that increases blood flow and the amount of oxygen pumped through the body is thought to be the most effective.
Exercise also increases the health of cell walls to allow for better exchange of nutrients and an improvement in heart health.
The optimum amount seems to be 30 to 40 minutes three to four times a week.
Healthy blood pressure may also be beneficial to the brain.
Other brain beneficial lifestyle habits include eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, staying social, and challenging your brain through learning or puzzles.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved, one, the first step is to raise these concerns with your family GP.