- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Alzheimer's Disease - Facts | Research | Alternative Remedies | Herbal Remedies
In 1990 Alzheimer’s disease was the 24th biggest killer in the UK. In 2010 it had jumped to the 10th; more than doubling in 20 years. Currently in the UK around half a million people suffer from the condition. It is expected that this figure will rise to over 1 million in the next ten years.
Alzheimer’s disease was first mentioned in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, a German neurologist. He analysed the brain of a patient who died and discovered certain protein deposits which he believed had caused the dementia symptoms she suffered from.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative physical condition which causes dementia. The brain is affected by a build up of tau-containing neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques which cause brain cells and their connections to die off. Amyloid plaques are deposits of cellular material and protein around the brain cells. Neurofibrillary tangles are fibres which contain tau (a type of protein) and have twisted inside the nerve cells of the brain. This causes lapses of memory and difficulties remembering the right word in conversation.
What are early symptoms of the disease?
- Short term memory problems including: forgetting appointments, names, places
- Problems with problem solving or planning
- Misplacing things
- Mood or personality changes
*Please note that some of these changes occur naturally with getting older but are normally transient - i.e. you may forget someone’s name or lose something but remember it later.
Do only old people get Alzheimer’s?
Most people with the condition are over the age of 65 but it can occur in people as young as 30. Early onset Alzheimer’s often runs in families.
How is Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis can be difficult; particularly in the early stages of the disease. It can take quite some time for the diagnosis to be made especially if the disease is in its very early stages.
The first step would be for the GP to conduct an assessment, which may be as simple as a physical examination, blood and urine tests and a conversation with the patient. This would rule out any treatable causes for the symptoms.
The next step would be for the GP to refer you to a Neurologist or a Geriatrician for further tests such as brain scans to screen out other possible causes – tumours or strokes. A further assessment will take place. An MMSE (Mini Mental State Examination) will probably be carried out if not already done by the GP. This is a series of questions and tests with a maximum score of 30. If a patient scores less than 27 the medical professional would look at other causes for memory loss first and in the absence of those the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s will be delivered, either to the GP or directly to the patient and their carer’s.
What kinds of questions are asked in an MMSE?
The questions will include orientation, simple arithmetic and memory. Questions are asked about time and place such as “what is the day and the date”. There are sites on the Internet which list the questions but due to copyright laws they can’t be published here.
People can sometimes score low on these tests not because of dementia but because of lack of education. Similarly; people from different ethnic backgrounds may find questions regarding English history difficult to answer. Intellectual people with an excellent level of education could score highly even though they are suffering from dementia. In these cases, different tests should be carried out to determine the level of dementia.
Are there any other tests I could try at home?
There is a home test called the SAGE test which is a simple test that can be done at home. There are four forms of the test. They can be downloaded here.
What are some of the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease?
- Severe long term memory loss
- Inability to recognise familiar people
- Loss of bladder/bowel control
- Aggressive behaviour
- Tapping, fidgeting or inappropriate touching
- Mood swings
- Loss of speech
The later stages of Alzheimer’s can be very distressing for carers and families of the affected person. They may need to organise respite care if possible so that they can take time to themselves to get away and relax. Caring for someone with dementia can be demanding and even exhausting at times and carers will often need support for themselves.
Is there any treatment?
At time of writing there are no treatments that can cure Alzheimer’s disease. There are drugs that can improve the symptoms or delay the progression of the disease. Aricept (Donepezil), Exelon (Revastigmine) or Reminyl (Galantamine) are normally given to patients with mild/moderate disease and Ebixa or Namenda in USA (Memantine) for those with severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Herbal Medicine which may help
- Ashwagandha has been reported improve brain health
- Evening Primrose Oil is thought to strengthen nerve impulses which may improve some of the memory loss symptoms
- Ginko Biloba is reputed to be helpful for boosting mental function
- Sage may help with memory as it contains acetylcholine. Studies have shown a marked improvement in memory function after taking supplements for four months
- Turmeric is often used with some success to help brain function in other diseases such as Parkinson’s disease
Other research regarding Alzheimer’s Disease
Some studies report an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia after taking or having taken Statins. There are also reports that Statins can prevent dementia!
There is a clinical trial due to begin in the UK in August 2013 to test a Blood Pressure drug for the treatment of Alzheimers. If you are interested visit http://www.dendron.nihr.ac.uk
A study has been carried out which shows that there is a critical time period of 15 years where treatments which target Amyloid protein may have an increased effect. Read it here
© Susan Bailey 2013 All Rights Reserved
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