Alzheimer’s- Understanding the basics and the symptoms

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What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of memory loss, often accompanied by the loss of other intellectual abilities such as the ability to take correct decisions or understand visual or spatial relations or even something as mundane as the ability to complete a conversation. While the biggest risk factor is advancing age (most of the people with Alzheimer’s are in the age group of 65 and above), it is not a normal part of ageing. In fact, many people who show obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s in their old age had already started developing the disease in their 40s or 50s- something that’s known as early onset Alzheimer’s.

With time, symptoms worsen- from mild forgetfulness, the disease slowly graduates over the years to loss of intellectual abilities- remembering what one has recently learnt, not being able to communicate or converse and difficulty in responding to one’s environment. The sixth leading killer disease in the U.S, Alzheimer’s has an average life expectancy of eight years after the patient’s symptoms become noticeable to others. However, depending on the age and other health conditions, Alzheimer’s life expectancy could vary between four and twenty years.

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Alzheimer’s causes- Why does it happen?

As we age, our brain undergoes gradual changes- that are a normal part of aging. For most of us, with age, our brain develops structures called plaques and tangles which are basically protein structures that build up on the insides of the brain’s nerve cells or in between the nerve cells. The Alzheimer’s brain develops these structures far more than normal, impairing normal cell activity. Also, they develop in a certain pattern- beginning with areas in the brain that control learning and remembering. So, one of Alzheimer’s early symptoms is not being able to recollect recently learned information. With time, the damage spreads- problems in one part of the brain cause repercussions in other areas and cells eventually lose their ability to carry out daily activities. Increasingly, symptoms become more serious and border on disorientation, mood, behavior and personality changes, a suspicious nature and graver memory loss.

Alzheimer’s warning signs– When should you see the alarm bells ringing?

Forgetting that intensifies from not being able to remember newly learnt information to forgetting important dates and events, repeatedly asking for the same information and having to rely on memory aids or family members to do things that could earlier be handled on one’s own.

A dip in problem solving and judging abilities like not being able to keep track of bills or not being able to take correct decisions regarding money matters etc.

Difficulty running mundane errands and accomplishing familiar, everyday tasks- for forgetting the road to your best friend’s place or a shop you regularly visit.

Losing track of time and place like not being able to comprehend where you are or what day of the week it is.

Trouble visualizing spatial relationships- Sometimes vision changes, cataracts, difficulty in reading or judging distance, color and contrast etc. can be a sign of Alzheimer’s.

Problems in communicating and social withdrawal- A person with Alzheimer’s may forget what he was saying midway, then repeat himself all over again or have trouble finding the right word to complete what he was saying. He might also find it difficult to join, follow or stay in a conversation. For all these reasons, he may slowly distance himself from social life- gatherings, sports events, hobbies and other things that he earlier enjoyed doing.

Misplacing things as in keeping them somewhere and then forgetting where you kept it and also growing suspicious that someone else might have taken it or hidden it somewhere.

Personality and mood changes- They may often become troubled, annoyed, suspicious or confused. They may become highly irritable if the routine order of doing things gets disturbed or when they need to move out of their comfort zones such as their home or familiar surroundings.

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