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Some of the common questions surrounding Alzheimer’s disease are answered below.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia among the elderly, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. The condition affects processes such as memory, cognition, personality and language. Over time, a person with Alzheimer’s becomes unable to look after themselves independently on a day-to-day basis.
Dementia refers to a syndrome or group of symptoms that represent ongoing mental decline. A person with dementia experiences impaired memory ability, reduced thinking speed, a loss of mental agility, language problems, cognition problems and loss of judgement. Dementia patients can lose interest in day-to-day activities and develop personality changes that make it difficult to keep their emotions in check.
Mild cognitive impairment refers to a small but detectable decline in cognitive ability that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
In the United States, there are nearly 4.5 million people who have Alzheimer’s disease. In the United Kingdom, nearly 500,000 individuals suffer from the condition.
People with this condition live for an average of 8 to 10 years after symptoms start to manifest.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s develop slowly and usually involve subtle problems with memory initially. Patients with the condition have been found to have abnormal protein deposits (amyloid plaques) in their brains, along with fibres called tau tangles and a chemical called acetylcholine. These disrupt neuronal messaging in the brain, which eventually becomes permanently damaged, affecting memory and cognitive processing.
Disorders that present with similar symptoms must be eliminated in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and these include depression, memory impairment, vitamin B12 deficiency, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, cerebrovascular disease, low blood sugar, overactive or underactive thyroid, volume depletion, impaired hearing and impaired vision.
As the exact cause of this condition is not known, no cure yet exists. However, some of the steps people can take to reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s include stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, taking regular exercise, attending regular health check-ups, and eating a healthy diet. People should also try to maintain their mental ability through reading or completing puzzles, for example.
There is no substantial evidence to link exposure to aluminium with the development of Alzheimer’s.
Some researchers hypothesize that NSAIDs may provide protection against this illness by reducing inflammation in the brain. However, there is no substantial evidence to support this and doctors advise against taking these drugs to protect against Alzheimer’s.