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What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, with over 520,000 people in the UK diagnosed with the condition. Named after German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, who first noticed the condition in the early 1900s, the condition has two forms – rare early onset disease, where symptoms first appear under the age of 65; and the more common late onset Alzheimer's, where symptoms appear in those aged 65 and over.

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There are two main proteins that cause Alzheimer's disease – amyloid and tau. Amyloid is an abnormal protein produced excessively in a person with Alzheimer's disease, causing amyloid plaques to build up in the brain. This prevents brain cells from connecting and functioning in a normal way. Eventually, brain cells die and can't be replaced. A second protein, tau, found inside the brain cells, replicates itself and causes brain cells to burst. Women are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than men, though the reason for this is unclear.

Mild symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include difficulty recalling recent events. A person may struggle with calculations or might find it difficult to remember specific words. They may get lost in familiar surroundings. Short-term memory will be significantly affected, with a person losing everyday items and forgetting names. They may struggle with spatial awareness and find it difficult to navigate stairs or kerbs. Their balance may also be affected. In later stages, problems with memory loss will become more noticeable and the person may suffer from hallucinations or behave out of character.

It's important to understand the difference between Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Dementia is not a specific diagnosis; it's an umbrella term used to describe cognitive problems. It can take some time to get a specific diagnosis for Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms may seem to appear gradually and many people may delay visiting their GP. When a person does seek help, their GP will need to rule out other possible causes of memory loss.

There are four different types of drugs available to help manage symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. These include Donepezil (Aricept), Rivastigimine (Exelon), Galantamine (Reminyl) and Memantine (Ebixa or Axura). The first three work by boosting levels of the chemical messenger acetylcholine inside the brain, improving communication between nerve cells. Memantine is usually prescribed for those with severe Alzheimer's disease and regulates the activity of Glutamate, a chemical messenger involved in brain function that is released in excess when brain cells are damaged.

During the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, a person may be able to live fairly independently. However, it is a progressive condition, so symptoms will get worse and a person will need more assistance coping with daily life. Eventually, they will reach a stage where it is not safe for them to be on their own.

 

Our experienced, compassionate staff are specially trained in dementia and memory care, and are on hand to provide help and support. We can provide live-in care, with respite, short-term and long-term options, and day-care at home. Contact us to find out more about how we can help to provide appropriate care for your loved one.