Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s disease, named after the doctor who first described it (Alois Alzheimer), is a a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities.
During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue. People with Alzheimer’s also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemical messengers help to transmit signals around the brain. When there is a shortage of them, the signals are not transmitted as effectively. As discussed below, current treatments for Alzheimer’s disease can help boost the levels of chemical messengers in the brain, which can help with some of the symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop. They also become more severe.
ACTIVITIES IN BRAIN
The brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons). Each nerve cell connects with many others to form communication networks. Groups of nerve cells have special jobs. Some are involved in thinking, learning and remembering. Others help us see, hear and smell.
To do their work, brain cells operate like tiny factories. They receive supplies, generate energy, construct equipment and get rid of waste. Cells also process and store information and communicate with other cells. Keeping everything running requires coordination as well as large amounts of fuel and oxygen.
Scientists believe Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cell’s factory from running well. They are not sure where the trouble starts. But just like a real factory, backups and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and, eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.
SYMPTOMS OF Alzheimer’s disease
There are some common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but it is important to remember that everyone is unique. Two people with Alzheimer’s are unlikely to experience the condition in exactly the same way.
For most people with Alzheimer’s, the earliest symptoms are memory lapses. In particular, they may have difficulty recalling recent events and learning new information. These symptoms occur because the early damage in Alzheimer’s is usually to a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which has a central role in day-to-day memory.
Memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease increasingly interferes with daily life as the condition progresses. The person may:
- lose items (eg keys, glasses) around the house
- struggle to find the right word in a conversation or forget someone’s name
- forget about recent conversations or events
- get lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
- forget appointments or anniversaries.
Although memory difficulties are usually the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s, someone with the disease will also have – or go on to develop – problems with other aspects of thinking, reasoning, perception or communication. They might have difficulties with:
- language – struggling to follow a conversation or repeating themselves
- visuospatial skills – problems judging distance or seeing objects in three dimensions; navigating stairs or parking the car become much harder
- concentrating, planning or organising – difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (eg cooking a meal)
- orientation – becoming confused or losing track of the day or date.