Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. The Department of Neurology at National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) shares tips to lower your risk and early signs to look out for.
Alzheimer’s disease: Most common form of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of
dementia and accounts for about 70 per cent of all cases. In an Alzheimer’s patient, the brain cells degenerate gradually and eventually die, causing memory loss and a decline in other mental functions which affect day-to-day functioning.
“There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease though there are drugs which can slow the progression of symptoms,” shares
Adjunct Associate Professor Shahul Hameed, Senior Consultant from the Department of Neurology at
National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), a member of the
This progressive brain disease usually occurs in older people, with symptoms typically appearing after the age of 60.
However, there are a small number of patients who may develop Alzheimer’s early, between the ages of 30 to 60. This is known as early onset Alzheimer’s.
Ways to lower your risk of Alzheimer's
As the exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is still unknown, there is no certain way to prevent the condition. But a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk.
1. The Heart–head connection
There is increasing evidence to show that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain. Several conditions known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease — such as
high blood pressure (hypertension),
diabetes (Type 2 diabetes mellitus) and
high cholesterol — also increases risk of developing Alzheimer's. So take steps to improve your cardiovascular health today!
Eating a healthy, balanced diet
Exercising regularly for at least 150 minutes a week by doing a moderate-intensity aerobic activity
Maintaining a healthy weight. Those overweight or obese in midlife are more at risk of developing Alzheimer's down the line.
Making sure your blood pressure is checked regularly and properly controlled
Stop smoking (if you haven’t)
Keeping alcohol drinking to a minimum
If you have diabetes, make sure you have it managed and take your medicine as prescribed
2. Have quality sleep
Nightly sleep deprivation will slow your thinking and affect your mood, putting you at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For tips to sleep better, read the article
3. Manage your stress
Chronic or persistent stress can take a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area, hampering nerve cell growth, and increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. For stress management tips, check out the article
4. Stay mentally and socially active
There is evidence to suggest that rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s are lower in people who remain mentally and socially active throughout their lives. You can do this by:
For more tips on dementia prevention, read the article
How to know if you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s
There are three general stages of the disease – mild, moderate and severe – and it may take years for the patient to progress from one stage to the next. Research suggests that the changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s can begin as much as a decade or more before symptoms first appear.
“The course of Alzheimer’s differs from patient to patient but the disease is usually diagnosed at the mild stage. Alzheimer’s causes brain cells to die and the affected brain regions to shrink in size. The damage is irreversible,” says Adj Assoc Prof Hameed.
The 3 Stages of Alzheimer’s
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are not always easy to recognise and can be confused with normal ageing. One of the first signs of the disease is short-term memory loss with patients forgetting conversations and even where they live. Symptoms worsen at each stage of the disease.
The following are common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
Have difficulty remembering directions and recognising surroundings
Have trouble handling money, paying bills and balancing a cheque book
Take more time than usual to complete daily tasks
Misplace everyday items, often keeping them in inappropriate places, e.g. putting keys or reading glasses in the refrigerator
Display mood and personality changes such as increased anxiety, restlessness and aggression
Have poor judgement, e.g. wear warm clothing on a scorching day
Have long-term memory loss and forget their personal information such as name, occupation and date of birth
Forget common words and the names of everyday objects
Have trouble recognising family and friends
Be unable to learn new things
Have difficulty in carrying out tasks that involve several steps, e.g. bathing, getting dressed and cooking a meal
Have trouble coping with new situations
Experience hallucinations, delusions and become paranoid
Display impulsive behaviour
Be unable to communicate
Groan and grunt
Have trouble swallowing food and eating
Have lack of control of bladder and bowels
Sleep most of the time
Develop skin infections
“In the final stage of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients may be bedridden and completely dependent on caregivers,” says Adj Assoc Prof Hameed.
Causes of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. The exact cause of the disease is not fully understood.
An Alzheimer’s patient develops some abnormalities in the brain which are responsible for the gradual decline and eventual death of brain cells. These are:
Plaques of beta-amyloid protein: A build-up of beta-amyloid protein deposits destroys brain cells and interferes with the communication between cells.
Tangles of nerve cells: Nerve cells develop tangles (neurofibrillary tangles) and this affects the transportation of nutrients into the cells.
“It is not clear why these abnormalities occur but research points to a link with a normally occurring blood protein called ApoE,” adds Adj Assoc Prof Hameed.
Diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is diagnosed after a thorough clinical, psychiatric and neurological evaluation. Since there is no cure for the disease, treatment involves drugs that help manage the symptoms.
“The duration of Alzheimer’s varies from patient to patient and can range from a couple of years to a couple of decades, culminating in death,” says Adj Assoc Prof Hameed. “On average, an Alzheimer’s patient lives for 8-10 years after the symptoms appear.”
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Check out more articles on brain diseases:
Sundowning: How Does it Affect People with Alzheimer's
How to Detect Brain Diseases Early (Stroke, Parkinson's, Dementia, Eplilepsy)
Tips to Prevent Dementia
Dementia Caregiver Tips: Understanding Dementia Behaviours
Parkinson's: Common Misconceptions Tackled!
YOD: Dementia That Affects the Young