Alzheimer’s disease: The disease that slowly takes away those closest to us

7 min. read

As people get older, they may start to experience some age-related memory changes. They may also find it increasingly harder to learn new things.

However, when memory problems start to affect a person’s ability to perform daily tasks, this may not be a part of normal ageing, but an indication of dementia.

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

Dementia is characterized by a gradual and progressive decline in cognitive ability (forgetfulness, failing sense of direction, impaired comprehension of written and spoken language, impaired judgement, problems performing routine daily tasks, problems controlling emotions, disturbed social behaviour) greater than that expected with normal ageing.

10 warning signs

1. Gradual memory loss
The affected person may not remember what they had for breakfast on any given day, but they can remember events from their youth in detail. Other symptoms include forgetting important dates and events, such as birthdays or names of family members.

2. Problems performing routine tasks
The affected person may have problems performing routine tasks. They might forget to use the right ingredients while preparing their favourite meal, or have problems following recipes.


3. Impaired speech
The affected person may pause mid-speech while searching for words, repeats what they’ve just said, or stutters during speech. They have problems with word-finding and object-naming (e.g. calling ‘trousers’ ‘leg sleeves’).

4. Disorientation in time and space
The affected person may not have a full grasp on the passage of time and finds it difficult to understand something that is not occurring here and now. They might forget where they are or how they got there, which is why they may get lost.

5. Decline of intellectual abilities, inability to assess and organise
The affected person frequently faces difficulties when planning or solving problems. They have difficulties making decisions and often make the wrong ones (dress in inappropriate clothes, engage in phone or online shopping, etc.).

6. Repeating the same questions
The affected person may repeat the same question 20 times in a day. This does not indicate that they did not hear your answer or are trying to upset you up on purpose. Their disease makes it impossible for them to remember your replies.

7. Misplacing items
The affected person may store things in unusual places (e.g. place jewellery in the sugar container, or a dirty cup in the linen closet), lose items, and forget where they have placed them. They may often search for things, check where items are stored, or accuse others of stealing.


8. Changes to personality and behaviour
The affected person may get easily upset, and they may become less or more aggressive, or may behave in an unusual manner. They may often act contrary to expectations and react inappropriately in a situation.

9. Changes in emotions and mood swings
Persons with dementia are less motivated, they may become passive, they sleep more than is usual for them, they do not know what to do, and they lose interest in things they used to love. 

10. Social withdrawal
Permanent abandonment of obligations, social activities, hobbies or sports. 

The progression of symptoms reflects in gradual deterioration of brain cells. Deposits of protein within the brains of dementia patients may gradually lead to the deterioration of brain cells (neurons). Experts are still not sure why this happens. Growing up, we learn new skills and gain information. But patients with dementia gradually lose the skills they obtained and forget what they knew, which makes them increasingly helpless.

There are over 100 different types of dementia. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, affecting more than half of patients with dementia. Alzheimer’s affects one percent of people aged 60, five percent of people aged 75, and a quarter of the population over the age of 85.

Healthy eating habits, physical activities, training cognitive skills, relaxation exercises and socializing all contribute to the health of our brains. It is imperative that treatment with medicinal products be started as early as possible to maintain the best possible cognitive and functional abilities of patients.


Risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s disease

Those with family history of dementia are at higher risk of developing this disease. More women are affected by dementia than men. Dementia has been linked with exposure to potentially toxic substances, (excessive) alcohol use, and smoking. It is more common in patients with vascular disease. Some research points to the advantages of drinking green tea, including broiled or baked fish in your diet, keeping physically active, and being socially active. In short, leading a healthy lifestyle now might lower your chance of getting dementia when you’re older.

A very small number of people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the very early stages of the disease

It is estimated that barely half of all those affected have been diagnosed in the developed world. At the onset of the disease, patients present non-critical symptoms. Their families and friends fail to notice them or deny them at first. During this stage, patients may experience problems with words when speaking and memory loss related to recent events. They may also have problems performing more demanding daily tasks (paying bills or making phone calls).

Living with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease is not easy

Alzheimer’s disease is most often diagnosed in the mild dementia stage, when the symptoms have become so pronounced that neither family and friends nor the patient can continue to deny them. In this stage, patients need everyday help. They are often aggressive and agitated, have problems sleeping and experience psychoses. Patients with severe dementia are incontinent, bed-bound (restrained), they have stopped speaking and can no longer recognize their own family or close friends. They have problems swallowing, and are more susceptible to infections.

Treatment slows down the progression of the disease

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment may only slow down the progression of the disease and alleviate cognitive, functional, and behavioural symptoms. Short-term improvement (up to one year) of some symptoms is also possible. In addition, treatment may offer some help to those caring for patients with dementia and extend their time at home.

It is imperative that treatment be started as early as possible to maintain the best possible cognitive and functional abilities of patients.


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