What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
All of us forget things at times.
Sometimes we forget where we put our keys. On a busy day we might forget to
keep an appointment. We may not be able to recall the name of an acquaintance
we bump into after many years.
In a person with Alzheimer’s Disease simple forgetfulness becomes more and more
noticeable, interfering with a person’s daily activities. Normal activities
such as dressing, hygiene or going to a marketplace become difficult.
Progressively, the person becomes dependent on others to carry out the simplest
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) attacks the
parts of the brain that control thought,
memory and language. This dementing illness is often noticeable after the
age of 60.Certain chemical reactions occurring in the brain cause the shrinking
of the brain cells. This eventually leads to the cluttering of the entangled
cells. The brain goes on shrinking and so does the memory.
The onset of the disease is gradual and
the person’s decline is usually slow.
Warning Signs or symptoms
The following symptoms are a checklist for you. If you have some of these do not ignore it as
a sign of the ageing process but check with your doctor. You can notice both
cognitive and behavioural problems.
Memory Loss : This gets to be distinctly different from the
absentmindedness most people have. When you start forgetting familiar details
like names of the members of your family or of friends or your home phone
Problems with familiar tasks : You may find yourself unable to tie
your shoe laces, something you have done almost every morning of your life. Or
may find yourself trying to write with a knife instead of pen.
Personality and Mood Changes
: You can undergo a drastic personality
change. A quiet and courteous person can turn an impatient and aggressive one.
Rapid, unexplained mood changes are also part of the AD pattern.
Language problems : You might find it difficult to find the right
word even in simple conversation. You may find difficulty in expressing your
Abstract Thinking impairment : Simple calculations become confusing.
Disorientation : Forgetting the day of the week or the date is not
uncommon but getting lost in your own neighbourhood or mistaking morning for
Misplacing things : Everybody misplaces a book, paper or keys. But if
you found that you have put your watch in the fridge or milk in the clothes
cupboard and cannot even remember when you did it, you have got a problem
Judgement Problems : You might find that you are making the wrong
decisions over simple tasks. Like watering plants on a rainy day or waiting for
the postman knowing that it is Sunday.
How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?
Though there isno single test to detect whether someone has Alzheimer’s disease,
careful examination of the person’s physical
and mental states can lead to a closer conclusion.
Caregiver or a close relative can provide insights about the
person’s behaviour, identifying difficulties he has developed in
performing routine tasks such as getting dressed, travelling alone, purchasing
household items from the market, managing daily work or even in using household
appliances like knife, spoon or iron.
A simple test known as Mini Mental State Examination
is useful wherein the person is examined in two ways. First through various
questions like, “What’s the date today? Which city we are in?” or through a
test where he is asked to identify common items such as watch, key-chain, pen,
etc. The second half of the examination is to ask the subject to follow a
series of simple instructions.
Doctors will check the person’s medical history,
make a physical examination, and ask
for a CAT scan to be taken to rule
out the possibility of other diseases.
A 100 percent
confirmation of the presence of Alzheimer’s can be made only with a brain
The importance of early diagnosis
depressing to have a doctor confirm an illness. And if it is Alzheimer’s there
is reason to be really troubled. But this should not stop you from getting an
early diagnosis, if you have detected the symptoms. You can get more out of life before things get worse.
There is ongoing research for treatment and
there are medicines available that at least hope to relieve patients of some of the symptoms of the disease.
You can plan for the future (when making
independent decisions is going to get difficult) and make arrangements.
This will involve financial decisions as well as decisions on whether to
participate in research, or arrange to donate brain tissue after death for
Should the patient be informed of the diagnosis?
Yes. Especially in the early and middle stages there is
a definite benefit in informing the patient.
If a person knows about his/her Alzheimer’s disease and understands the process of its
progression, he/she can plan to make most of the remaining years with initial
stages of memory loss.
An AD patient can
make arrangements for care that he might require. He can make financial
decisions as well as decide to participate in research, or arrange to donate
brain tissue after death for research. Informing the person about his disease
could be a one-to-one talk, in front of family members or personally through
doctor. This will depend on the personality of the patient.
is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Three FDA approved drugs-donepezil
[Aricept], tacrine [Cognex], and rivastigmine [Exelon]-may temporarily relieve
some symptoms of the disease. Medication and non-pharmacological therapies
are also available to reduce some of the behavioural symptoms associated with
Alzheimer’s, such as depression, sleeplessness, and agitation.