Alzheimer Meaning & Early Signs of Alzheimer’s You Should Be Aware of

BAJAJ FINSERV HEALTH EXPERTS, Neurologist
April 07, 2021

The human brain is an organ that controls overall function of the body and, just like other organs, it is susceptible to disease. These are known as neurological conditions and among the most common is Alzheimer’s disease. Simply put, Alzheimer’s is one that affects memory and plays a key role in cognitive decline. Those afflicted by this condition often find it hard to live life independently and almost always need specialized care to get through life. As such, paying close attention to the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease can help deal with the impairment more precisely.

Alzheimer’s typically affects those in their advanced years, usually over age 65, with just around 10% of cases presenting in younger people. This makes it important to be particularly vigilant of elders who may exhibit the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, to do so effectively, you need to be armed with trusted information. To that end, here’s all you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease, its different stages, risk factors, treatment options, and ways to prevent cognitive decline.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

By definition, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease and a type of dementia. Its main feature is the existence of plaques and tangles in the brain, in addition to the loss of nerve cell connection. As such, it affects the memory, cognitive ability, and behaviour of the afflicted. Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic condition with no cure and the symptoms gradually worsen with time. For this reason, it is referred to as a degenerative disease but with the right treatment, one’s cognitive decline can be slowed down and delayed.

This is why it is important to get an early diagnosis as doctors can take the afflicted through a series of tests and other treatment options to maintain the patient’s mental agility for as long as possible. However, mental decline is inevitable and it occurs in stages. Certain schools of thought suggest a 7-stage decline, while others suggest 3 stages. In essence, both lead to a similar conclusion and here is a breakdown of the 3 stages of Alzheimer’s disease that you should be aware of. 

  • Stage 1: Mild Alzheimer’s disease

    At this stage, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will start to exhibit symptoms that are indicative of cognitive decline and memory impairment. As such, those afflicted will often find themselves lost, take longer to do tasks, handle money with difficulty, and have mood swings often.

  • Stage 2: Moderate Alzheimer’s disease

    At this stage of the Alzheimer’s disease, the brain has sustained greater damage and the parts responsible for controlling reasoning, language, and consciousness are negatively affected. As such, the afflicted are more likely to exhibit impulsive behaviour, suffer from hallucinations or delusions, have difficulty remembering names or learning new skills, and lose the ability to perform daily tasks.

  • Stage 3: Severe Alzheimer’s disease

    At this stage, the brain shrinks by a lot due to the plaques and tangles present. Here, the afflicted will likely lose the ability to communicate or even move from a bed and will become completely dependent on caregivers.

Understanding Alzheimer’s 3 stages of progression can offer perspective on how far along someone is with the condition. Some experts also suggest a 4-stage breakup for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Alzheimer’s 4 stages
  • Mild or early stage
  • Moderate or middle stage
  • Severe or late-stage
  • End of life

As you can see, the 4 stages resemble the 3 stages in many aspects. In the 4-stage breakup ‘end of life’ refers to the time when the brain loses the ability to communicate with the rest of the body. 

What are the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

Since early detection plays a huge role in the overall treatment and management of this condition, here are 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s disease to take note of.

  1. Difficulty in planning
  2. Inability to complete routine tasks
  3. Memory problems
  4. Balance issues coupled with difficulty in reading
  5. Being confused with time, date, and place
  6. Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps
  7. Difficulty speaking or holding conversations
  8. Exhibiting poor judgment
  9. Constant mood swings and personality shifts
  10. Complete withdrawal from social activities and hobbies 

What are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease?

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains a mystery to medical professionals and scientists, there is a basic outline of a series of events that causes Alzheimer’s disease. It starts when brain proteins no longer perform optimally, and this causes the disruption of neurons. As such, these neurons become damaged and eventually die out. For most people, Alzheimer’s disease is the result of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic components affecting the brain over a period of time.

The role of two proteins, plaques and tangles, is said to have a hand in causing Alzheimer’s disease. Clustered plaques seem to disrupt cell communication whereas tangles affect the transport system responsible for carrying essential materials. Besides these causes, it is important to note the different Alzheimer’s risk factors.

Some are more likely to develop the condition and these are the factors responsible for Alzheimer’s:

  • Prior head trauma
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Air pollution
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Poor sleep pattern
  • Type II diabetes 

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Simply being occasionally forgetful isn’t a sign of this form of dementia but persisting symptoms can be. Here are a few of the symptoms to expect with Alzheimer’s.

  • Inability to keep appointments
  • Difficulty with problem-solving
  • Trouble completing otherwise simple tasks
  • Impaired speech or writing capabilities
  • Withdrawal from community
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Personality changes
  • Feeling disoriented often
  • Impaired judgment 

What are the health complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease?

When there is a steady decline of cognitive ability, those with Alzheimer’s disease will find it harder to communicate effectively. Further, the cognitive changes of Alzheimer’s can amplify other health problems and lead to complications such as:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Flu and pneumonia
  • Bedsores
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mouth sores
  • Physical injury 

When dealing with the complications of Alzheimer’s, food consumption is another potential area for problems. The afflicted may inhale food or liquid into the lungs and this can lead to lung tissue damage. 

What to expect when diagnosing Alzheimer’s in old age patients?

While there is no single test to conclusively diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, your doctor will carry a series of tests to determine the state of the affected. Your doctor may also question your family, to gain insights from their experiences and medical history, and come to a more conclusive diagnosis. The tests a doctor may perform are as follows.

  • Genetic testing
  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • MRI scan of the brain
  • Memory tests
  • Cognitive tests
  • Neurological function tests 

What are the different Alzheimer’s disease treatment options?

Alzheimer’s disease treatment options come in two types: medications and behaviour treatments. With the former, the medications prescribed can help control the symptoms and thereby, improve the patient’s quality of life. This, by no means, modifies the disease but simply helps with its management. Generally, drugs knowns as cholinesterase inhibitors are administered to the afflicted and this can help with confusion, judgment problems, and impaired memory.

Other approved drugs for treatment of Alzheimer’s symptoms are:

  1. Galantamine (Razadyne)
  2. Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  3. Donepezil (Aricept)
  4. Memantine (Namenda)

Alternatively, the behavioural and emotional treatments are linked to identifying triggers and constructively dealing with them. Since those with Alzheimer’s disease are likely to become more aggressive, irritable, and restless, this type of treatment can bring about a welcome change. Moreover, some doctors may also prescribe medication such as antianxiety, antidepressant, or antipsychotic drugs to deal with the symptoms.

How can you prevent mental decline due to Alzheimer’s disease?

There is no actual way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease but the next best option is to do all you can to prevent rapid mental decline. Some of the best practices to do so are as follows.

  • Maintain a social lifestyle
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • Exercise often and regularly
  • Quit smoking altogether
  • Do cognitive training exercises 

Understanding and knowing to identify the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease is crucial to an early diagnosis and optimal care. With such forms of neurodegenerative conditions, starting with treatment early can go a long way in preserving cognitive ability in old age. Additionally, since there is no cure to the condition, the efficacy of Alzheimer’s yoga treatment, meditation, and alternative treatments is being researched. However, for optimal care, you need to ensure you have the best doctors advising you. To find the best with ease, use the Bajaj Finserv Health App.

This smart digital tool is loaded with features that enable easy and hassle-free access to top quality healthcare. The smart doctor search feature allows you to find the right doctors, nearest to you, right from your smartphone. What’s more, you can book appointments online and also choose consult specialists virtually, if a physical trip isn’t possible. In addition to remote care, the app has a health library that you can refer to for additional information about common ailments. This helps in recovery and gives you an idea of preventive care too. To benefit from these features and more, download the app for free from the Apple App Store or on Google Play today.