Alzheimer’s: causes, disease course, prevention: Alzheimer’s disease is a disease in which sufferers have a marked lack of memory, language and orientation of the brain as well as disorders of reasoning and judgment. Many people also experience illness-related personality changes. Most sufferers are over 65 years old.
Alzheimer’s disease (AK), also known as Alzheimer’s disease or Alzheimer’s dementia, is a brain organic or neurodegenerative disease. About 60 percent of all dementias are due to Alzheimer’s disease. It is named after the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, who scientifically documented the disease in 1906 for the first time. Even though the disease has been known for over 100 years, it is still considered to be insufficiently understood and the underlying symptoms are currently untreatable. Alzheimer’s dementia is developing slowly, but progressing steadily. As a rule, there is a constant decline in cognitive performance. With the worsening of the condition of the patients decreases in most cases, the independence in everyday life and the patient increasingly needs more support.
The course of the disease is divided into different stages depending on the severity. Each phase focuses on other mental and physical impairments that require other measures.
Seven warning signs indicating Alzheimer’s disease
According to the US National Institute on Aging, there are seven warning signs indicating a possible onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Families of the person concerned should seek advice from a physician if several of these characteristics apply. As a feature counts when a person
- answers more often with the same question that was asked to him
- always asking the same question
- very often tells the same story,
- increasingly neglected its outward appearance,
- forgetting everyday things that he or she originally mastered, such as cooking, a deck of cards, or operating household appliances,
- Difficult to handle money, forgets to pay bills or make money transfers,
frequently misplaced everyday objects or placed them in unusual locations and suspected others of having stolen the items they were looking for.
The early stage of the disease: mild dementia: The first signs of Alzheimer’s disease are short-term memory disorders. Those affected often can not remember conversations, have difficulty finding words, forgetting where to put things like their keys or their glasses, and have reduced planning, organizational and orientation skills.
In this phase, those affected often remember their own forgetfulness. Depending on the individual, patients may respond aggressively, afflicted, defensive, depressed or with complete withdrawal when confronted with the symptoms. Many Alzheimer’s sufferers try to preserve the semblance of normality for as long as possible.
For the most part, patients can, in the light-hearted phase, carry out their day-to-day tasks such as shopping, household maintenance, preparing food, and taking care of their own personal hygiene. In addition, they can still make limited judgments and solve problems. But more complex work, such as contracting, banking, and the use of buses, trains, or planes (especially on unknown routes) may require help.
The second stage of the disease: moderate dementia: In this phase of the disease, the symptoms reach a level that largely does not permit independent everyday coping. The cognitive performance of the patients decreases so much that they can no longer accomplish simple everyday tasks alone. Also the language ability is formed back. Many sufferers can no longer complete sentences at this stage.
Even long-term memories begin to fade. As part of this phase, people with Alzheimer’s disease can forget how old they are, what the spouse or children’s name is, what job they did, or similar basic things. In addition, many sufferers are no longer aware of their illness and, for example, suddenly want to go to work or visit the deceased
For relatives, this phase can be very stressful, as the Alzheimer’s patients also show increasing behavioral abnormalities. These can include a pronounced restlessness, aggressiveness, apathy and depression. Often, the nerves of relatives are strained by constantly repeating the same question or doing the same work.
The advanced stage of the disease: severe dementia: In the most severe phase, sufferers experience a massive loss of cognitive and muscular performance and control. The patients are now completely dependent on the help of others in all areas. Often, patients can no longer maintain their posture, control bladder and bowel functions and no longer go their own way. It can also cause seizures, limbs and dysphagia at this stage. Many patients are bedridden or require a wheelchair at this stage.
Although Alzheimer’s disease does not directly lead to the death of patients, it increasingly increases susceptibility to infection. Thus, infectious diseases are the leading cause of death in Alzheimer’s patients.
The causes of Alzheimer’s dementia are not fully understood today. There has been no significant progress in research for a long time. Scientists suspect that the protein amyloid-beta (beta-amyloid) plays a key role in Alzheimer’s disease. The protein is suspected as a trigger and its presence is considered a symptom of the disease. The beta-amyloid clumps and forms insoluble deposits called amyloid plaques. These deposits disturb the communication of nerve cells.
Another responsible person seems to be the tau protein. It is located inside the nerve cells and ensures the stability of the cells. In addition, the tau protein allows the exchange of information between the nerve cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, an incorrectly altered tau protein was detected, which accumulates in the nerve cells and forms the so-called tau fibrils. These result in the cells losing stability and decaying.
Researchers believe that the combination of these two protein deposits disturbs and destroys nerve cells over many years, ultimately leading to cognitive impairment in memory, thinking, language, gestures, and orientation. Whether and how the two protein deposits interact and the reasons for these processes have not been conclusively clarified. In the course of the disease, up to 20 percent of all nerve cells die. To make matters worse, a part of the surviving cells is disturbed in function.
All previous drug candidates to stop Alzheimer’s disease have failed in clinical trials. Many pharmaceutical companies have given up and stopped the field of research, although there is a clear increase in dementia.
The events that are suspected to be the cause can begin as early as 20 years before the onset of the first symptoms. So far, however, there is no reliable way to identify people in the pre-stage of the disease. Most clinical studies have looked at people in whom the clinical symptoms are already evident and brain damage has already occurred.