Everything You Need to Know About Alzheimer's Disease

April 24, 2023
7 min read

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative neurologic condition that causes the brain to shrink and the brain cells' death. It leads to a decline in thinking, social and behavioral skills, and eventually loss of cognitive function in its early stages. According to the National Institute on Aging, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the US.[1]

Everything You Need to Know About Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia where the brain cells die, leading to memory loss and a decline in cognitive functions. It's a neurological condition that accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases.[2] Approximately five million people live with Alzheimer's in the US, and this number is expected to increase over the next decade.[3] Most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 65. The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first noticed the condition in 1906.

Alzheimer's disease is a chronic condition whose symptoms appear gradually with degenerative brain effects. It has no cure, but there are treatments to slow progression and improve the quality of life. People with early-stage dementia suffer mild memory loss, but symptoms worsen in the late stage as they lose the ability to conduct conversations and perform basic functions.

Dementia and Alzheimer's are not the same thing as they are sometimes used interchangeably. Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that relates to conditions with symptoms that may lead to loss of memory. Dementia includes other specific conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington's disease, and traumatic brain injury.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of Alzheimer's progress gradually, over months or years. Memory loss is usually the first symptom and the key feature. A person may have difficulty remembering newly learned information since Alzheimer's originates from the part of the brain responsible for learning. Signs of dementia may be recognized easily by family members since people with the disease may have difficulty recognizing the problem.

Signs of memory loss are more apparent when an individual forgets about appointments or events, starts getting lost, losing objects, or repeating conversations or questions. Cognitive deficits cause an individual to have difficulty with complex tasks, reasoning, and judgment. They may have trouble dealing with money or bills, making decisions, reduced understanding of safety and risks. They may also have difficulty in completing basic tasks like getting dressed.

Difficulty in recognition reduces the person's ability to recognize faces and objects or use basic tools. They may also have spatial awareness issues where they have a problem maintaining balance and end up spilling things and tripping over more often. There are signs of problems with reading, speaking, and writing common words. Personality or behavioral changes include loss of empathy, irritability, lack of motivation to perform activities, compulsive, obsessive, or anti-social behavior.


Alzheimer's develops as a result of the death of brain cells. It is progressive, where the death of brain cells happens gradually. It is still not clear to scientist what causes Alzheimer disease, but common factors include a combination of environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors.[4]

Scientists suggest that Alzheimer's disease prevents part of the brain from working efficiently. Damaged cells continue to spread and die out, leading to irreversible changes in the brain. Plaques and tangles are believed to be the leading cause of damaged cells. Plaques are made from beta-amyloid protein and buildup between dying cells. Tangles are twisted fibers from the tau protein and occur within nerve cells.

Researchers do not fully understand the role of plaques and tangles, but it is believed they block communication among nerve cells leading to their death. This leads to memory failure, problems doing basic functions, personality changes, and other Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

Risk factors

The common risk factors for Alzheimer's disease are aging, genetics, and family history. They increase the risk level of developing the disease. Genetics is a key factor in causing Alzheimer's disease, with one specific gene, Apolipoprotein E (APOE), being investigated by researchers.

It is worth noting that even if an individual has this gene, they may not get Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, a person may get the disease even when they do not have the gene. Researchers continue to study Alzheimer's disease and uncover crucial aspects of how it affects the brain. There is hope that there will be a breakthrough and more effective treatments.


Alzheimer's disease is progressive, and the symptoms worsen over time. In the mild or moderate Alzheimer's disease stage, an individual start experiencing memory problems and cognitive difficulties. Problems can include trouble handling money and paying bills, wandering and getting lost, personality and behavior changes, and taking longer to undertake typical daily tasks. It is at this stage that most people are diagnosed.

Moderate Alzheimer's Disease

At this stage, the parts of the brain responsible for language, reasoning, senses, consciousness, and reasoning are damaged. A person experiences a more significant loss of memory and confusion, leading to difficulty recognizing friends and family. They may also be unable to perform tasks with several stages, learn new things or cope with new situations. Other symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia, impulsive behavior, and delusions.

Severe Alzheimer's Disease

Plaques and tangles spread throughout the brain, causing the tissues in the brain to shrink significantly. People with severe Alzheimer's disease are unable to communicate and lose complete cognitive function and are dependent on others for care. As the body shuts down, they may be unable to leave the bed all or most of the time.

Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease

People in their early 40s and 50s can get Alzheimer's disease even the main risk factor is older adults. There are over 200 000 Adults under the age of 65 who have early-onset Alzheimer's disease in the US. [5] Doctors are still unsure why younger people develop the disease, although several rare genes have been linked with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no single test for Alzheimer's disease, and doctors rely on symptoms, experience, and medical history. A doctor may take blood or urine tests, an MRI or CT scan of the brain, genetic testing, neurological function, memory, and cognitive tests. These tests help to determine a person's ability to remember, balance, and respond to reflexes.

Treatments for Alzheimer's disease help to improve the quality of life since there is no known cure. Drugs such as cholinesterase inhibitors can help ease cognitive symptoms like confusion, memory loss, and judgment problems. Other FDA approved drugs include galantamine, donepezil, and rivastigmine.

Behavior and emotional problems can be challenging to manage. Difficulties include anxiety, irritability, restlessness, depression, and sleep problems. These may be side effects of medicines or discomfort from underlying medical conditions that can be treated.

There are specific triggers that can lead to these problems, such as a change in the environment, caregiver, or a simple change of clothes. Identifying the triggers can help the person lead a more comfortable and secure life and gain peace of mind. Other medications that can help cope with Alzheimer's disease include anxiety drugs, antidepressants for low mood, and antipsychotic medications for delusions, hallucinations, or aggression.

Living with the Disease

People living with Alzheimer's disease have difficulty remembering things and thinking clearly since significant numbers of nerve cells in the brain die. Early diagnosis of the disease enables the patient and family to seek appropriate treatment and the necessary care. There are numerous resources available to help patients deal with Alzheimer's disease and remain active as long as possible.

It is crucial to remember that the patient does not change instead, the disease leads to odd behavior, forgetfulness, and confusion. The patient may have problems communicating and expressing themselves. A caregiver needs to know how to communicate effectively with the patient. Some tips include encouraging conversations, taking note of body language, making eye contact, and using other communication methods, like guiding them by touching them softly.

Ways to deal with behavior and personality changes include:

· Limiting caffeine

· Using humor

· Sticking to a bedtime routine

· Keeping things simple

· Using distractions such as music

· Making them feel safe

People dealing with Alzheimer's disease need to feel they are loved and cared for. They can spend more time with other people or join support groups.[6]

Alzheimer's disease is still undergoing numerous research with doctors trying to find more effective treatment. The current treatment can help delay symptoms and improve the quality of life. If you suspect a family member or friend has Alzheimer's disease, you can talk to a doctor to make a diagnosis and get more information on providing care.

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