Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that starts with mild memory loss until the individual loses the ability to carry on a conversation. It's the most common type of dementia that accounts for 60% to 80% of all dementia cases. Alzheimer's disease isn't a part of aging nor a natural condition of old age, contrary to what people believed.
The latest available data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded a whopping 122,019 people that died due to Alzheimer's in 2018, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the US. While some people with mild cognitive damage can live long, on average, people with this condition live 4 to 8 years after diagnosis.
Alzheimer's has three stages: early (mild), middle (moderate), and advanced (severe). People with early Alzheimer's experience mild memory loss and cognitive challenges. These symptoms get worse over time. Ultimately, the body won’t be able to keep up, so it starts to shut down as the brain tissue sinks significantly.
Scientists don't fully understand what causes Alzheimer's, but autopsy studies discovered two abnormal structures in the brain called plaques and tangles. Plaques are protein fragment deposits called beta-amyloid that accumulate in the spaces between nerve cells. Tangles are twisted fibers of tau protein that also accumulate inside the cells. Experts believe they assist in disrupting the cells in the brain.
Its most known risk factor is age, as Alzheimer’s typically affects people aged 65 and older. However, it can also affect people under the age of 65, and the condition is termed early-onset Alzheimer’s. Nearly 200,000 Americans have an early-onset condition. A combination of past or existing health conditions, lifestyle habits, and environmental factors may also increase the risk of the disease.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and may first appear in people in their mid-60s. The most known early sign is difficulty recalling new information. Other common symptoms include:
People with advanced-stage Alzheimer's are completely unable to perform daily activities and have to depend on others to take care of them.
Some symptoms of Alzheimer's are similar to Lewy body dementia (LBD)—another type of dementia—but there are also some noticeable differences. Physical movement problems, such as loss of balance and falls, are early symptoms of LBD. Signs of physical deterioration also appear in people with Alzheimer's but only after the disease has substantially progressed.
Furthermore, visual hallucinations are quite common in LBD and usually manifest at the early stage. Meanwhile, hallucinations tend to occur at a later stage in people with Alzheimer's but not as frequent as in LBD.
Alzheimer's has no cure; however, treatments are available to ease and delay symptoms. Several FDA-approved medications, antipsychotics, and antidepressants can help manage some symptoms and maintain mental functions.
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