Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a degenerative disease of the brain. It is characterized by thinning of the brain surface and loss of brain cells, which gradually ceases a person’s ability to speak, express, or make decisions.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia (loss of memory and cognitive skills). People with Alzheimer's disease first develop memory loss. Sleeping excessively is a common feature of later-stage dementia. The reason for the excess sleepiness may be one of the following:
- As the disease progresses, the brain damage becomes more extensive, and the patient wants to just lie down.
- The muscle weakness brought on my brain cell death and reduced movements may make the person inactive.
- The side effects of the various medications Alzheimer’s patients take may cause sleepiness.
- The depression may often accompany the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and this may manifest as increased sleeping.
- The general lethargy is seen in patients with Alzheimer’s due to reduced food intake.
As the disease progresses, memory loss worsens and problems with thinking, decision making, reasoning, language, or perception develop. Alzheimer's is a disease with no cure, but there are ways to stop or slow its progression with medications and other therapies. These can treat symptoms and improve the quality of life.
What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease?
The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is measured in seven stages:
- Stage I: No symptoms appear but early diagnosis is made based on family history.
- Stage II: Symptoms, such as absent-mindedness, appear.
- Stage III: Reduced memory and concentration appear.
- Stage IV: Memory loss with the inability to perform everyday tasks. Alzheimer’s is usually diagnosed at this stage and considered mild.
- Stage V: Moderate to severe symptoms appear.
- Stage VI: A person may need help with basic tasks, such as eating and wearing clothes.
- Stage VII: This is the final and severe stage of Alzheimer’s. Symptoms include:
- Severe memory loss, mood swings, and behavior changes
- Extreme confusion about time, place, and life events
- Trouble speaking or communicating
- Decreased physical functioning, such as walking, sitting, and swallowing
- Urinary and fecal incontinence
- Loss of facial expressions
- Suspicions about friends, family, or caregivers
What happens in Alzheimer’s disease?
Scientists believe that Alzheimer's disease may be caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins: beta-amyloid and tau. Beta-amyloid buildup forms plaques around brain cells. Tau deposits form twisted fibers called tangles within brain cells. As these proteins accumulate in and around the brain cells, the brain starts to lose its ability to function properly, this leads to loss of brain tissue, and eventually, the brain dies. The tissue damage also causes the affected parts of the brain to shrink.
Initially plaques and tangles damage parts of the brain that control memory, thought, and language. Later they spread and damage other parts of the brain.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not known. However, several factors increase the risk of the disease.
The risk factors of Alzheimer’s include:
- Age: Risk increases with age, affecting 15% of people older than 65 years and 50% of people older than 85 years.
- Family history: Family member with the disease increases the risk. Inherited gene mutations also increase the probability of developing the disease.
- Gender: Women have a higher risk than men.
- Down syndrome
- Traumatic head injuries earlier in life
- Other risk factors include:
What are the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a slowly progressive disease and symptoms gradually worsen over time, interfering with daily life.
Characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Persistent memory loss:
- Forgetting important dates or events
- Confusion and disorientation with places (getting lost)
- Confusion with date or time of the year
- Asking for the same information repeatedly
- Losing or misplacing things
- Vagueness in everyday conversation
- Cognitive decline:
- Changes in thinking skills
- Problems with decision-making, problem-solving, and planning
- Poor judgment
- Inability to process new information and questions
- Inability to follow instructions
- Difficulty performing daily tasks
- Difficulties with recognition:
- Confusion and inability to recognize faces, places, or objects
- Difficulties with language:
- Struggle in finding the right words or names of items, places, or people
- Difficulty in speaking, reading, or writing
- Difficulties with spatial awareness and visual images:
- Difficulty judging shapes and sizes
- Trouble with depth perception
- Trouble judging distances
- Vision problems
- Behavior or personality changes:
- Changes in mood, personality, or behavior
- Deterioration of social skills
- Withdrawal from social activities or work
- Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
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Lakhan SE. Alzheimer Disease. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1134817-overview