Named after Alois Alzheimer, the German psychiatrist who first described the condition, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. AD is a degenerative disease usually diagnosed in people over the age of 65 although other forms of AD can occur much earlier in life. As AD is a progressive condition the symptoms will continue to get worse as it develops. Around 26 million people worldwide had AD in 2006. But what is AD?
AD attacks nerves, brain cells and neurotransmitters (chemicals which carry messages to and from the brain). Sufferers experience AD in different ways but there are many common symptoms. In the early stages, the most commonly reported symtpom being memory loss. Many sufferers have difficulty remembering recently learned facts. As such these symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be age-related concerns. As the disease progresses other symptoms may include mood swings, confusion, long term memory loss and irritability or aggression.
As stated earlier, AD usually affects people over the age of 65. Research has shown that some risk factors exist meaning some people may be more likely to develop AD than others but so far the disease has not been traced to a single cause. Several genes have also been identified that play a role in the proportion of cases.
As there’s no single test that can define whether someone is suffering from AD, diagnosis of the condition relies on several different tests. Firstly a discussion of the patient’s symptoms with their carer or a relative takes place. This can be followed by a test of the patients memory to discover the state of the condition. Advanced technology such as brain imaging using computer tomography scanning can indicate the presence of the disease. And diagnoses can also be made at post-mortem by examining brain material.
Currently there are no effective medical treatments which can slow or halt the progress of AD. However there’s a great deal of research into the condition and there are several drugs currently in clinical testing which may be able to deal directly with the disease. Despite their being no drugs which can cure AD many exist which can treat the symptoms and have been shown to have positive short-term benefits. Although there are no guaranteed ways of preventing the onset of AD it may be helpful to maintain a healthy diet and engage in regular physical exercise. Similarly keeping your brain stimulated by doing puzzles, crosswords or playing chess is often recommended as a preventative measure.