The most commonly occurring form of dementia among senior citizens is the Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is, affecting their day-to-day functioning of carrying out daily activities.
This disease develops slowly, first affecting those parts of the brain which control memory, thought and language.
People suffering AD have a lot of trouble remembering things that have happened very recently, or even the names of people they know.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a related problem which causes additional memory problems for these people. A high percentage of those suffering from MCI go on to develop Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease, like most other forms of dementia, is caused due to brain cell death, which is a neurodegenerative disease where the brain cell death occurs over a period of time. The size of the brain shrinks too, with its tissues containing lesser nerve cells and connections.
Autopsy of the bodies of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have shown minute inclusions in the nerve tissue which are called plaques and tangles. Plaques are located in between the dying cells of the brain while the tangles are located inside the brain’s neurons.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed at any stage of the disease. Their progression is monitored after the diagnosis. The progression of this disease has three stages –
- Preclinical (which means they show no signs or symptoms)
- Mild cognitive impairment
Some doctors and researchers have broken down these 3 stages further, ranging from mild to very severe decline.
Over the passage of time, the symptoms of this disease become worse. Patients might start showing trouble reading and writing, and even speaking. They may forget how to perform daily activities like brushing their teeth or changing their clothes. Some of them tend to become aggressive or anxious, or simply wander inside the house or maybe even outside it. The bottom line is that they need at least one person’s undivided attention so that they may not be able to cause any harm to themselves or those around them. Eventually, they need total care.
Tests and diagnosis
The biggest clinical problem with this disease is that it is not easy to diagnose. There is no particular test for it which can determine the onset of dementia in a person. This is why during diagnosis, the doctors rule out any other problem before coming to the conclusion that the symptoms are actually signs of dementia.
The diagnosis may include:
- Taking a history of daily activities
- Noting down symptoms
- Performing a physical examination to locate any signs of a stroke, kidney disease or heart condition or kidney disease
- Check the patient’s neurological functions like senses, reflexes, and body’s balance
- Blood tests
- Urine samples
- Brain scans
As already mentioned above, these tests are taken to eliminate any possibilities of any other disease before confirming Alzheimer’s as the cause of those symptoms. Genetic tests can be conducted because it is believed that those suffering from Alzheimer’s have a higher likelihood of passing it on their off-springs. However, many doctors and researchers dub this as highly unreliable.