Alzheimer's disease guide
What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease affects the brain and is named after Alois Alzheimer, the physician who first described it. The most common cause of dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, speech, judgment, and behaviour. In Alzheimer's disease, many neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die.
Irreversible and progressive Alzheimer's disease slowly destroys memory and thinking abilities and, ultimately, the ability to perform the simplest daily tasks.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that the global prevalence of the disease is 24 million and is supposed to double every 20 years until at least 2040. The exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is not fully understood, although some factors are believed to increase the risk of developing the condition. These include increased life expectancy, heredity, and depression.
Alzheimer's disease - is a disease that robs people of memory. At first, people have difficulty remembering recent events, although they can easily recall something that happened many years ago. Because Alzheimer's is a progressive condition, symptoms develop gradually over many years until they eventually become very severe. The following symptoms after memory loss are:
- confusion, disorientation even in familiar places;
- difficulties with planning and decision-making;
- problems with speech and language;
- issues with mobility and performing self-care tasks;
- change in personality behaviour, aggressiveness, exactingness and suspicion towards others;
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there) and delusions (believing things are not valid);
- lousy mood or anxiety.
No test can tell if a person has Alzheimer's disease. Instead, the diagnosis is made by determining the presence of specific symptoms and ruling out other causes. It includes a thorough history taking, mental status checks, physical and neurological examinations, blood tests, and brain imaging studies, including:
- Brain CT scan- combines special x-ray equipment and computers to produce multiple images of the inside of the body. Doctors use a CT scan to look for and rule out other causes, such as a brain tumour, hematoma, or stroke.
- Brain MRI scan - uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs, soft tissues, bones, and virtually every other internal structure in the body. An MRI of the brain may be without changes in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. An MRI may reveal a decrease in the size of various brain areas in later stages.
- PET and PET/CT scan is a diagnostic test that uses small amounts of radioactive material (called a tracer) to diagnose and determine the severity of the disease.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved drugs that fall into two categories: drugs that change the course of the illness and temporarily relieve symptoms of the disease.
- Cognitive symptoms (memory and thinking) - these medications doctors prescribe to treat symptoms related to memory and thinking. Although these drugs cannot stop the damage to brain cells caused by Alzheimer's disease, they can help reduce or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by acting on certain chemicals.
- Non-cognitive (behavioural and psychological) symptoms - agitation, anxiety, apathy, depression, wandering, hallucinations, insomnia, urinary incontinence, and disinhibition often cause the most significant problems. Antipsychotic drugs (neuroleptics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and others) are used for their treatment.
There are rehabilitation programs for people with Alzheimer's disease. However, they differ depending on the symptoms, severity and progression of Alzheimer's disease. These factors determine the amount and type of care needed for a person with Alzheimer's. Programs include exercise and social activity, proper nutrition and health maintenance.
New treatment options
Over the past decade, progress in the fight against Alzheimer's has been slow and, at times, disappointing. Scientists are still trying to figure out how Alzheimer's disease progresses in the brain. Researchers are also struggling to develop a drug that can treat it.
- Aduhelm™ is a drug that recently received accelerated approval from the FDA to treat Alzheimer's disease. It is the first drug treatment aimed at the basis of the disease. Therapy with this drug has shown that removing one of the hallmarks of the disease (beta-amyloid) from the brain reduces functional impairment in people with early-stage Alzheimer's disease.
- Alternative Therapies and Supplements - adopting a Healthy Lifestyle Reducing the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Various remedies, supplements, and "medical nutrition" are often referred to as alternative therapies. However, the mission statement about their safety and effectiveness is mostly based on testimonials, tradition or scientific research.
- Stem cell therapy - aims to replace damaged cells with healthy stem cells that can grow on their own and create new healthy brain cells. Because the graft is usually autologous (using the patient's cells) in nature, there is minimal chance of tissue rejection.
Scientists are researching to find new interventions and treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Physicians believe that future treatment will involve a combination of drugs or devices primarily aimed at preventing disease risk.
Statistics and prognosis
Every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops Alzheimer's disease. In 2022, there will be more than 55 million people worldwide with this disease. This number will almost double every 20 years, reaching 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.
Age is the primary risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. The percentage of people with Alzheimer's increases dramatically with age: 5.3% of people aged 65 to 74, 13.8% of people aged 75 to 84, and 34.6% of people aged 85 and over have Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is complex. Therefore, it is unlikely that any drug or other intervention will successfully treat it in all people. However, AiroMedical has made tremendous progress in understanding Alzheimer's disease better, having the latest insights and developing and testing the latest treatments, including several drugs in the late stages of clinical trials.
- Healthline Media: Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms
- NHS: Overview - Alzheimer's disease
- NIH National Library of Medicine: How Is Alzheimer's Disease Treated?
- Alzheimer's Association®: Aducanumab Approved for Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Alzheimer's Association®: 2021 Alzheimer's disease facts and figures
- News-Medical: Stem Cell Therapy for Alzheimer's
- Healthline Media UK: Why Alzheimer’s disease may require a broader treatment plan
- Alzheimer's Society: Treatment and support of Alzheimer's disease
- WebMD: Understanding Alzheimer's Disease: the Basics