Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

  • Alzheimer's disease is a disease that affects the brain. It is the most common cause of dementia among older people.
  • The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that include memory loss, difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language. 
  • Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop and the disease becomes more severe.


Who gets Alzheimer’s disease?

  • The disease mainly affects people over 65. If people under this age develop this disease, it is referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
  • There are about twice as many women as men over 65 years old with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Someone who has a close relative (parent or sibling) with Alzheimer's when over 65 has an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity in mid-life are all known to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Depression is also risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
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What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

  • The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are generally mild to start with, but they get worse over time and start to interfere with daily life.
  • Memory difficulties are usually the earliest symptoms. They later on develop problems with other aspects of thinking, reasoning, perception, orientation or communication.
  • They lose items (e.g keys, glasses) around the house

  • Struggle to find the right word in a conversation or forget someone's name

  • Forget about recent conversations or events

  • Get lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey

  • Forget appointments or anniversaries.

  • Struggle to follow a conversation or repeating themselves

  • Have problems judging distance or seeing objects in three dimensions, navigating stairs or parking the car become much harder

  • Have difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (eg cooking a meal)

  • Become confused or lose track of the day or date.

  • Some people start to believe things that are untrue (delusions) or – less often – see or hear things which are not really there (hallucinations).

  • Develop behaviours that seem unusual or out of character. These include agitation (eg restlessness or pacing), calling out, repeating the same question, disturbed sleep patterns or reacting aggressively.

How is it treated?

  • There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • However, there are medications used to alleviate symptoms and slow progression of the disease.
  • Many people benefit from exercising their mind with reading or puzzles. There is evidence that attending sessions to keep mentally active helps (cognitive stimulation). 
  • There are many ways to help someone remain independent and cope with memory loss. These include practical things like developing a routine or using a weekly pill box. There are other assistive technology products available such as electronic reminders and calendar clocks.
  • Omega-3 supplements and Ginkgo supplements have not been proven to lower the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Summary

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia  and it causes memory loss, difficulty in thinking, language, problem solving, concentration and orientation.
  • Age, Gender, Family history and lifestyle contribute to the risk of developing the disease.
  • There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there are drugs to slow the progression of the disease.
  • Leading an active lifestyle that combines regular physical, social and mental activity will help to lower risk.
  • Omega-3 supplements and Ginkgo supplements have not been proven to lower the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

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