Grandpa is lost again…
He can’t find the car.
He’s been around the town at least three times, bought three loaves of bread and gone back for the newspaper twice.
In short, Grandpa’s cabeça is playing tricks on him. What if it’s the start of Alzheimer’s?
Ola, this is Dr Joy!
Today we’re going to answer the most common questions about Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease. It is a progressive brain damage leading to neuronal death. It is mainly characterised by a progressive loss of memory and certain intellectual functions (language and motor disorders, loss of executive functions, etc.).
These eventually have an impact on activities of daily living.
The symptoms evolve over time, and are referred to as stages. They vary from one individual to another.
What are the causes and risk factors of the disease ?
To date, the precise causes of the disease are still unknown.
Ongoing research on the subject is providing more insight into the biological mechanisms.
The main risk factor is age: the older you get, the more likely you are to develop the disease.
It’s a bit like Grandpa’s case.
The others are:
- Genetics: only 1% of cases
- Environmental factors such as diabetes, overweight, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic stress, etc.
Therefore, a healthy lifestyle is important to prevent Alzheimer’s disease (and many others for that matter).
Are there different stages of Alzheimer’s disease ?
Yes, there are a total of 7 stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This is because Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease, which means that it will progress over time.
The different stages are theoretical. In reality, they differ from person to person.
The 7 stages are:
- Stage 1: No impairment
All functions are normal.
The person has no memory problems. There are no symptoms of dementia when interviewed by a health professional.
- Stage 2: Very mild cognitive impairment
This may be related to age or the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
You may feel that you have memory lapses, forget common words or the location of everyday objects. But your friends or medical examinations do not detect any signs of dementia.
- Stage 3: Mild cognitive impairment
From this stage onwards, Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed. This is called the early stage.
Friends, family and colleagues start to notice certain problems. It is often at this point that the person starts to seek help. And thorough medical examinations will show problems with memory or concentration.
The symptoms at this stage are:
- Difficulty in finding the right word or name
- More difficulty in performing tasks in a social or professional context
- Forgetting something immediately after reading it
- Losing or misplacing something of value
- Stage 4: Moderate cognitive impairment
At this stage, a thorough medical examination normally reveals obvious symptoms of the disease.
In addition to the above symptoms, there may be :
- Forgetfulness of one’s own past
- Mood swings or erasure
- Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive impairment
At this stage, people with Alzheimer’s disease need help with everyday activities.
There are many associations which provide support to caregivers and patients.
In Portugal, you will find for example:
The patients present new symptoms in addition to the previous ones:
- Temporo-spatial disorientation
- Difficulty in solving simple mathematical problems
- Need for help in choosing clothes for a particular season or occasion
- Stage 6: Severe cognitive impairment
Memory problems continue to increase. In some cases, personality changes can also be observed.
At this stage, people:
- Need help with dressing appropriately
- Major disturbances in sleep patterns
- Need help with certain toileting tasks
- Have a tendency to wander or get lost
- Stage 7: Very severe cognitive impairment
This is a very advanced stage of the disease. During this stage, the person is no longer able to interact with those around him or her or to have a conversation. However, he or she can still speak a few words or sentences.
It is at this stage that people with Alzheimer’s disease are placed in specialised institutions. Reflexes become abnormal. Muscles stiffen. They start to have problems swallowing.
Please bear in mind that these different stages may overlap and are unique to each person. It is difficult to determine at which stage of the disease a person is. Also, memory problems can occur with age without it being Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is best to be sure.
How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?
The diagnosis is initially clinical. It is important to make a differential diagnosis of neurodegenerative disease to ensure that it is not another illness.
To date, there are powerful diagnostic tests such as comprehensive neuropsychological assessments of cognitive functions, but also imaging examinations such as MRI and PET scans. These will highlight the areas of the brain that are suffering.
It is also possible to carry out a lumbar puncture. This shows the biological signs of the disease, i.e. the presence of abnormal deposits of amyloid and tau protein.
How can alternative medicine alleviates the symptoms ?
To date, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are drug treatments that can reduce the symptoms. These are introduced by the patient’s medical team. This is often a geriatrician or the general practitioner, if it is a repeat prescription..
At Alegria Medical Centre, our specialist is Diana Tomaz. She specialises in geriatrics and will give you the best possible support.
Also, some alternative medicines can alleviate the symptoms of the disease or those related to the side effects of treatments. This can be the case, for example, with behavioural therapies.
Indeed, mindfulness meditation, hypnosis, or EMDR have demonstrated their effectiveness.
Any medicines that calm anxiety are also recommended. The latter will encourage attention disorders and disturb the memory.
And the more calm you are, the better your concentration, so your memory works better.
And there you have it, you know a little more about Alzheimer’s disease. By the way, this disease is honoured every 21 September on World Alzheimer’s Day.
Dr Joy.Talk to a family doctor