Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a degenerative disease, in which parts of the brains cease to function and die. The symptoms include forgetfulness, personality changes, disorientation and loss of speech. The disease is irreversible and the patient’s dementia sometimes sets in rapidly.
In the event of Alzheimer’s disease, accumulations arise of a particular protein in the nerve cells of the brains. The breakdown process of this protein does not proceed well. Researchers think that because of these accumulations, called plaques, nerve cells and the connections between nerve cells perish. This prevents the brains from functioning properly and the nerve cells die. They also create tangles (knots). These look like a jumble of wire-like proteins in a nerve cell, which makes it impossible for the nerve cell to function, causing the brain cell to die.
People whose father, mother, brother or sister has Alzheimer’s disease, have a higher risk of getting the disease themselves too.
Dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease develops gradually and worsens slowly. Forgetfulness is the most striking symptom. Processing new information doesn’t work anymore and problems arise with reading, talking, writing and calculating. Furthermore, other cognitive functions (the ability to think, judge and understand) get lost. Acting independently and taking initiatives are hampered and drop below the former level. The patient often becomes disoriented in time and/or place and loses social skills.
Memory problems can make Alzheimer’s patients suspicious. About half of the Alzheimer’s patients suffer from delusions: beliefs that don’t match reality. These are usually suspiciously touched. For example, the patient may think that he or she has been cheated or robbed by his or her partner or caregiver. Sometimes, the patient is hallucinating and sees or hears things that are not there.
People with Alzheimer’s disease have specific problems with everyday activities, which, for example, are performed more and more clumsy. At the same time, the current social contact will continue for a long time, which could give outsiders the false impression that everything is fine.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is usually made on the basis of the symptoms. MRI scans may reveal defects in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, such as atrophy, the shrivelling up of the brains. By means of a lumbar puncture, cerebrospinal fluid can be collected and tested. In case of Alzheimer’s disease, the proteins, derived from the tangles and plaques, are demonstrably present in the cerebrospinal fluid. An exact diagnosis is usually only possible after the death of the patient, by examining the brains.
Alzheimer’s disease is as yet incurable, although there are medications and therapies that can make the patient’s life somewhat easier.
In early Alzheimer’s, sometimes drugs are used that would inhibit the disease. However, opinions on this are divided. According to several doctors, the side effects are worse than the inhibitory effect on the disease.
Furthermore, the therapy of Alzheimer’s disease focusses on guidance and care, in order to let the patient feel most safe and comfortable. The aim is more and more to support the patient at home for as long as possible. With help, patients may sometimes continue functioning remarkably long.
More and more nursing homes invite children to participate in the activities of the demented elderly. It has been found that the presence of children has a stimulating effect on the elderly. In addition, there are ‘snoozle’ therapies. A separate room is therefore usually decorated with soft lighting, music, warm colors and soft shapes.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease. On average, people live eight to ten years after the diagnosis has been made. Moreover, it is not so much the disease itself that people die from. Due to the disease, Alzheimer’s patients often have many other diseases. In most cases, patients die from pneumonia.
- According to researchers, a balanced diet can protect from cognitive impairment later in life. People older than 65 years, who regularly use nutrients such as leafy vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, fish and poultry, appear to have Alzheimer’s disease less likely than people who use many fat dairy products, red and organ meat. A healthy diet includes substances, such as omega-3 and omega-6, unsaturated fatty acids and vitamins E, B9 (folic acid) and B12.
- Partners, family and people in the close environment (family caregivers) will have to tolerate a great deal. Not only the daily care is hard, but they can also have significant difficulty with changes in personality and behavior of the patient, especially when it comes to aggression and sexual expressions and behavior. Proper information, support and guidance is essential for them.
- Alzheimer’s disease is named after the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the disease in 1901.
- The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is 10% in people older than 65 years and 50% in people older than 85 years.
- In people over 70 years, women are two to three times more likely to have this condition than men.