Dementia & Alzheimers Disease

There are different causes of cognitive dysfunctions, i.e. memory - short & long term, concentration, language, speech, visuo-spatial orientation. Most of them are nearly irreversible condition such as Alzheimers Disease, Multi- Infract Dementia, Lewy Body Disease, Picks Disease, Parkinson's Disease, Huntingtons Disease etc. Among them Alzheimers Disease is the most common cause of degenerative dementia. It is a debilitating, life-altering disease that attacks the brain.

Its primary symptom is progressive memory loss, but difficulties with vision, language skills, and emotional control are also common. The progressive deterioration continues for five to 20 years. At some point, a person with Alzheimer's disease will require 24-hour care and assistance with daily activities such as eating, grooming, and toileting.

Because its impact on the affected person is so great, it profoundly affects family and caregivers. Age is clearly the major risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. While only five percent of those over 65 have the disease, nearly half the population over 85have it. Genetics also appears appear to play an important role.

The course of Alzheimer's disease varies disease varies tremendously, but is always progressive. Symptoms usually begin with memory loss, especially of recent events. For instance, the person will repeat stories in the same conversation. In the early stages, Alzheimer's patients cannot learn new information. As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer's disease become increasingly confused and disoriented. Some cannot find words in conversation, and cover by using automatic phrases and clinches. Another common symptom is personality and behavioral changes such as unusual agitation, depression, and paranoia.

Judgment and common sense increasingly become impaired. Eventually, patients forget how to perform simple tasks, like combing their hair or brushing their teeth. Personality changes are more distinctive-ranging from progressive passivity to marked agitation. About half of patients have paranoid delusions, such as thinking that caregivers or family members are impostors or that their home is not their real home. About 20-30 percent of Alzheimer's patients develop symptoms such as slow movement and trembling. Symptoms may develop gradually and go unnoticed for a long time.

Only a physician can properly diagnose the person's condition, which could be a treatable form of dementia. Even if the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease, new treatments are available for patients as is assistance for caregivers. There is no simple test to diagnose Alzheimer's disease; a definite diagnosis can only be made by examining brain tissue, usually at autopsy.

When Alzheimer's disease is suspected, it is important to have a thorough medical and neurological evaluation to identify treatable disorders with Alzheimer's-like symptoms. Illnesses like depression, hypothyroidism, vitamin B12 deficiency, hydrocephalus, cerebral vasculitis, neurosyphilis, AIDS, and stroke can cause dementia, as can alcohol and some medications.

The cause of Alzheimer's disease is currently unknown. It is not contagious. Genetic factors and aging appear to play an important role. Alzheimer patients who have at least one other relative with the disease are categorized as "familial."

While currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are some treatments that help manage the symptoms. Several drugs are currently FDA approved for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. None of the drug slows the disease progress, but can ease symptoms in some patients by inhibiting the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is in short supply in Alzheimer's patients. There are also many approved medications for the behavioral symptoms, including drugs to control depression, agitation, anxiety, and delusions. Families and friends can help by recognizing that Alzheimer's disease impacts not only the patient, but also the primary caregiver.

Dr. Alim Akhtar Bhuiyan

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