Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes cognitive decline and memory loss.

This is the most common type of dementia. It affects more than 6,000,000 Americans and 30,000,000 people worldwide.

The progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms

The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s usually appear around the age 65, but they can also occur much earlier or later.

The onset is gradual and subtle. It begins with a preclinical phase that can last several years. This stage is characterized by mild memory loss, but there are no functional impairments and only minor changes.

As the disease advances into the early stages , the patient begins to experience mood and personality changes as well as depression and loss of concentration.

As you progress into the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, you may have difficulty recognizing your family members and friends. You might also experience a loss of impulse control and difficulties reading, writing and speaking.

The cognitive and functional impairments of Alzheimer’s disease are so severe that the patient cannot even recognize his or her family. The patient may become bedridden and lose the ability to speak or move. The patient will eventually die due to complications such as difficulty swallowing and urinating.

Alzheimer’s disease patients can live up to 20 years after diagnosis, depending on the speed of progression.

A look inside the brain

Between 1901 and 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer documented and observed the mental decline of an undiagnosed female patient. He performed an autopsy after her death to determine what had happened.

He observed extensive atrophy in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that is involved in memory and language. He observed abnormal deposits in the nerve cells of thin brain slices under the microscope: plaques and Neurofibrillary Tangles. These are the two main neuropathological characteristics of the condition that we call “Alzheimer’s Disease.”

There is still much to be learned about Alzheimer’s and its causes, even after more than a century. The amyloid cascade model suggests that accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins leads to plaques and neurofibrillary fibers. This is followed by the death of nerve cells and the manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease.

Modifiable Risk Factors

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are closely related to genetics and aging, and we cannot do much about either.

There are several risk factors we can modify to reduce the risk of getting this disease. These include:

  • Improve your diet for weight loss, blood pressure reduction, and cholesterol levels
  • Stop smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying socially and mentally engaged
  • Treatment of depression and anxiety

These healthy lifestyle changes will not eliminate the risk of Alzheimer’s. They can improve your quality of life, and reduce your risk of negative outcomes.

If someone you know or you are experiencing any of these symptoms , you should consult a doctor immediately for a diagnosis and treatment options.

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