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,” shared the Department of Neurology from National Neuroscience I​nstitute (NNI), a member of the SingHealth group.

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!

These include:

  • 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 here.

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 here.

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:

  • Maintaining an active social life

  • Trying new activities or hobbies

For more tips on dementia prevention, read the article here.

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,” explained doctors from the department.

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:

Mild Alzheimer’s

  1. Repeat questions

  2. Have difficulty remembering directions and recognising surroundings   

  3. Have trouble handling money, paying bills and balancing a cheque book

  4. Take more time than usual to complete daily tasks

  5. Misplace everyday items, often keeping them in inappropriate places, e.g. putting keys or reading glasses in the refrigerator

  6. Display mood and personality changes such as increased anxiety, restlessness and aggression

  7. Have poor judgement, e.g. wear warm clothing on a scorching day

Moderate Alzheimer’s:

  1. Have long-term memory loss and forget their personal information such as name, occupation and date of birth

  2. Forget common words and the names of everyday objects

  3. Have trouble recognising family and friends

  4. Be unable to learn new things

  5. Have difficulty in carrying out tasks that involve several steps, e.g. bathing, getting dressed and cooking a meal

  6. Have trouble coping with new situations

  7. Experience hallucinations, delusions and become paranoid

  8. Display impulsive behaviour

Severe Alzheimer’s

  1. ​​​Be unable to communicate

  2. Groan and grunt

  3. ​Have trouble swallowing food and eating

  4. Have lack of control of bladder and bowels

  5. Sleep most of the time

  6. Develop skin infections

In the final stage of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients may be bedridden and completely dependent on caregivers.​

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 (ne​urofibrillary tangles) and this affects the transportation of nutrients into the cells.

It is not clear why these abnormalities occur b​​ut research points to a link with a normally occurring blood protein called ApoE.​

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. On average, an Alzheimer’s patient lives for 8-10 years after the symptoms appear,” NNI doctors said.

Tap the banner above to find out how Memory Care on the Health Buddy app can help you maintain or improve your memory. Plus, get tips on how to care for a loved one with dementia.

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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