What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for approximately 60-80% of cases. Other factors, such as vascular problems, Parkinson’s disease, or certain infections, can also lead to dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms associated with a decline in cognitive abilities. Your memory, thinking skills, and language ability altered enough to affect your daily life.
Researchers do not yet know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s. They believe the abnormal build-up of proteins (amyloids) in the brain might play a role in a process. And that it may begin many years before symptoms appear. Here are some additional factors that appear to play a role in increasing your risk of getting this disease:
- While early-, or young-onset Alzheimer’s disease can affect people as young as 40, advancing age is the most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. After the age of 65 Alzheimer’s disease prevalence doubles every 5 years.
- Another significant risk factor is a mutation in the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene. People with the APOE ε4 variant have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, although not everyone with this variant will develop the disease. Other genes, such as presenilin 1 (PSEN1) and presenilin 2 (PSEN2), are also associated with early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease.
- A history of severe head injuries, cardiovascular risk factors, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and limited mental and social engagement.
- Depression is thought to increase your risk of developing the disease, though it can also be a symptom.
While these factors are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, further research is still needed to fully understand this complex disease.
The symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s disease vary considerably from person to person, but tend to worsen over time as the disease progresses. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:
- Memory loss: The first sign is usually minor memory problems such as difficulty remembering recently learned information. This often manifests as forgetting important dates or events, repeatedly asking for the same information, or relying on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle independently.
- Cognitive decline: Individuals with Alzheimer’s may experience challenges with thinking, reasoning, and concentrating. They may have difficulty solving problems, planning and organizing tasks, and completing familiar activities.
- Language problems: Sufferers may struggle to find the right words to express themselves, have difficulty following or joining a conversation, or frequently repeat themselves.
- Disorientation and confusion: Alzheimer’s can lead to confusion about time, places, and people. Individuals may get lost in familiar surroundings, forget where they are or how they got there, and have difficulty recognizing family members or close friends.
- Low mood, anxiety and apathy: Individuals may have mood swings, irritability, and a general apathy or withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities.
In advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals experience severe memory loss. They may not even recognize close family members or recall personal information. Behavioral changes may become more aggressive, and include hallucinations. Motor skills may also decline, leading to difficulties with swallowing, walking, sitting, and self-care tasks.