Alzheimer’s is a disease that forms within a sufferer’s brain, and which slowly begins to impact their memory and thinking skills. In the long run, Alzheimer’s usually ends up impacting a person's ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks, such as eating and speaking, and will inevitably drastically reduce their quality of life and cause them to become dependent on others.
Most sufferers of Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65, and the risk of getting it increases as you age. However, it’s important to note that developing Alzheimer’s certainly isn’t an inevitable part of aging, which is why it’s important to take plenty of steps throughout your life to prevent it.
If you think that you or someone you know might suffer from Alzheimer's, then this simple test can give you some quick answers.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two terms that are often used interchangeably by people, since there’s a common misconception that they both refer to the same condition. However, Alzheimer’s disease is actually just one of the many paths that can lead to dementia.
This is because dementia is merely an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that affect a sufferer’s thought processes and memory. When a person is diagnosed with dementia, they are simply being told that they are suffering from a particular set of symptoms. The next step would then be to work out exactly what causes these symptoms to appear in the first place.
The most common reason for the onset of dementia is, in fact, Alzheimer’s disease, since it has been estimated to be responsible for as many as 70% of dementia cases. However, there are many other causes of dementia, including Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Another key difference is that, in certain cases, dementia can be a temporary and reversible condition, while Alzheimer’s disease has been found to be a permanent condition, which only ends up getting worse, as time goes by.
Nearly everyone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease will eventually begin to experience the same symptoms, including confusion, memory loss, trouble with once-familiar tasks, and difficulty in making decisions. However, there are 3 main types of Alzheimer’s disease, and their differences lie in the way that they are contracted:
1. Late-Onset Alzheimer’s
By far the most common form of the disease, at around 95% of all cases, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s is the kind that occurs in people over the age of 65. It may or may not be genetically-linked, since researchers have yet to find a particular gene that causes it, despite their suspicions.
2. Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
This kind of Alzheimer’s is a lot less common, and only accounts for around 5% of all cases. It occurs in people who are under the age of 65, typically in their 40s or 50s, and people who suffer from Down syndrome have a higher risk of getting it.
Scientists have found that early-onset Alzheimer’s has an even greater effect on the brain than its late-onset counterpart, and have linked its formation to a DNA defect contained within chromosome 14. A muscle twitch known as myoclonus is also more common for sufferers of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
3. Familial Alzheimer's Disease (FAD)
This is a rare form of Alzheimer’s that is 100% genetic, which accounts for less than 1% of all Alzheimer’s cases. In affected families, members of at least two generations have typically had this kind of Alzheimer’s, and many cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s are actually linked to FAD.
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that gradually gets worse over time, and that’s why its symptoms are often split into 3 sections: early, middle, and severe stages.
In the early stages of Alzheimer's a person may:
• Find it hard to remember things
• Ask the same questions repeatedly
• Get lost in familiar places
• Lose things or place them in unusual places
• Have trouble handling money and paying bills
• Take longer than they normally would to finish daily tasks
Once Alzheimer's has progressed to the middle stages, the symptoms, particularly memory loss and confusion, grow worse. Other symptoms include:
• Difficulty learning new things and coping with new situations
• Trouble carrying out tasks that involve many steps, such as getting dressed
• Impulsive behavior
• Forgetting the names of common things
• Hallucinations, delusions or paranoia
• Problems recognizing family and friends
• Wandering away from home
Once Alzheimer's has progressed to the more severe stages, symptoms include:
• Total lack of communication
• Spending a lot more time asleep
• Weight loss
• Trouble swallowing
• Complete dependence
Due to the highly complex nature of Alzheimer’s disease, scientists around the world are still not completely sure what causes it, and how it works. However, many years of research have led us to understand a number of key points.
Specifically, we know that Alzheimer’s causes certain brain cells to lose their functions and die, and this is what causes memory loss. A process called atrophy (shrinking of the brain) also takes place, which causes a harmful loss of brain volume.
This loss of brain function is believed to be due to the interactions of two types of proteins, known as amyloid and tau, which have been found to block communication between brain neurons. Amyloid has been observed accumulating into plaque-like clusters, while tau has a tendency to build up inside dying cells in what researchers call ‘neurofibrillary tangles’.
Other researchers also believe that chronic inflammation in the brain may also play a role in the onset and development of Alzheimer’s. Inflammation often occurs as a part of the human body’s defense system, and it aids white blood cells in destroying toxins and waste products.
However, scientists have found that certain waste products, such as amyloid plaque and tau tangles, are not being eliminated by Alzheimer’s patients' brains, causing their brain cells to remain permanently inflamed, which ultimately leads to the death of many more brain cells each day.
While there’s no proven way to guarantee that you’ll never get Alzheimer’s, there are many lifestyle and dietary changes that you can make, which have been found to decrease or delay your chances of contracting this disease later on in life.
• Maintain a healthy average weight
• Never stop learning new skills and expanding your areas of knowledge
• Maintain a varied circle of friends
• Start taking estrogen supplement after menopause (women only)
• Use the internet frequently to stimulate your brain
• Make sure you get a good night’s sleep
• Keep your stress levels in check
• Brush your teeth twice a day
• Take care of your eyes
• Try and be as physically active as possible
• Keep diabetes under tight control
• Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich superfoods, such as black raspberries, elderberries, raisins, and blueberries.
• Avoid eating bad fats
• Treat yourself to cocoa powder and dark chocolate regularly
• Raise your levels of good cholesterol
• Drink 2 to 4 cups of coffee a day
• Drink more black and green tea
• Eat curry or take curcumin pills
• Add a lot more vinegar to your meals
• Take 500 to 1000mcg of vitamin B12 daily
• Drink a glass of wine each day
• Start following a brain-boosting Mediterranean diet
It can be sad to see a relative, loved one or friend deteriorate from the effects of Alzheimer’s, but there are quite a few things that you can do to help make their quality of life a lot better, as well as making your job a little easier. Here are a few things you should keep in mind as a caregiver:
• Don’t even think about trying to argue with an Alzheimer’s sufferer – you will get nowhere.
• Ignoring the symptoms won’t make them go away.
• Be aware that too much medication can actually cause further memory loss, so always check with your doctor which ones are really necessary.
• Always listen to what they have to say, even if it makes little sense to you.
• It’s never too late to work on improving their brain health.
• Share your struggles and be open to receiving help.
• Remember to give yourself a break every once in a while.
• Don’t forget to prioritize!
• Remember that 20 minutes for you can feel like a whole day for them.
• Have difficult conversations about medical/legal issues early on, so that you can ensure that you will honor their wishes later on.
We’d also recommend trying out some of these 7 meaningful acts to help people with dementia.
A new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, has now found that people with low dopamine levels may be at an increased risk of suffering from Alzheimer's disease in the future.The researchers analyzed 110 adults with certain memory testing techniques, as well as 3Tesla MRI technology, which is a type of MRI scan that's twice as powerful as normal, which allows for more accurate scans.
Their results showed that if the dopamine-rich area of the brain, called the ventral tegmental area, doesn't send enough dopamine to the hippocampus, then the ability for a person to learn new information will gradually decline, which could ultimately end up causing Alzheimer's.
Learn more about this new breakthrough here.
Update - 12th July, 2018: Researchers Discover the 'Big Bang' of Alzheimer's
Scientists from UT Southwestern have recently discovered the earliest point in a neurodegenerative process that is thought to lead to dementia. The researchers have described their discovery like finding the 'Big Bang' of Alzheimer’s disease, and they hope that their work leads to new treatments and ways to detect the disease before major symptoms occur.
This new research focuses on a particular protein that is called tau, which can accumulate and kill neurons, and many researcher believe it to be the cause of Alzheimer's. It was previously believed that isolated tau proteins didn’t have a distinctly harmful shape until they began to aggregate with other tau proteins, but this new research has shown that a toxic tau protein actually presents itself as misfolded, exposing parts that are usually folded inside, before it begins to aggregate. It’s these exposed parts of the protein that enable aggregation, forming the larger toxic tangles.
Now that this early alteration in the shape of tau molecules has been identified, researchers can focus on potential drug targets to inhibit the toxic accumulation at this stage.
Update - 27th August, 2018: Scientists Discover & Cure Alzheimer's 'Zombie Cells'
A type of cellular stress that is linked to both cancer and aging has now also been found to be connected to Alzheimer's disease. UT Health San Antonio faculty researchers recently reported this discovery in the scientific journal, Aging Cell, and it is being hailed by leading scientists as a potentially massive step forward.
The researchers discovered that this stress, known as cellular senescence, does not outright kill the cell, but it may cause it to become zombie-like, altering its functions and killing surrounding cells. Incredibly, the researchers were able to decrease their presence, as well as the malignant tau protein tangles, using a combination of drugs including dasatinib and quercetin.
Even though there is a lot of stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, there are also many touching and heartwarming stories that many sufferers and caregivers can relate to. Below, you’ll find a selection of some of the most emotional and inspiring ones:
1. Woman Finds Out About Her Daughter’s Pregnancy Every Day
2. Alzheimer’s Hasn’t Changed Who This Man Loves…
3. Her Mom Didn’t Recognize Her, Until…
4. Singing Helps this Alzheimer's Patient to Remember
5. Teenager Discovers a Way to Help Alzheimer's Patients
6. Wonderful Husband Truly Loves His Ill Wife
7. The Japanese Restaurant Where the Waiters Have Dementia
8. The Town for People With Dementia
9. A Beautiful Story About True Love & Devotion
If you have anything on your mind that isn’t covered in this guide, then be sure to take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to learn even more about Alzheimer’s disease.
Don’t forget to share this guide with anyone who is affected by this all-too-common disease, whether directly or indirectly.