Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behaviour. It accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia causes. Share these frequently asked questions and answers with your patients to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.
1. What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible brain condition that destroys memory, behaviour, and thinking skills. The condition develops slowly and worsens over time.
2. What is Dementia?
Dementia is a group of symptoms that severely affect the thinking and memory skills and interfere with a person's normal daily activities and social relationships. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people.
3. What are the stages of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s progresses in several stages:
• Preclinical: patient remains symptom-free, but harmful changes may develop in the brain
• Early or Mild: patient may show certain signs
• Middle or Moderate: worsening of memory loss and confusion. Patient may find it difficult to recognize family members and friends
• Late or Severe: loss of ability to communicate, weight loss, difficulty swallowing
4. How does the condition affect memory?
Alzheimer’s slowly attacks and destroys neurons, the cells in the brain that manage and control biological functions and stores memories. As the number of damaged neurons increases, it severely affects functioning.
5. What are the risk factors for Alzheimer’s?
• Family history
• Down syndrome
• Poor sleep patterns
• Lack of exercise
• Heart disease
• History of head trauma
• Mild cognitive impairment
6. What are the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
• Memory loss
• Unable to recognize people or objects
• Changes in sleeping habits
• Loss of appetite and weight loss
• Changes in mood and behaviour
• Unable to make judgements or decisions
• Difficulty in planning or performing familiar tasks
• Staying away from work or social activities
• Impaired communication
7. How is the condition diagnosed?
• Physical and neurological evaluation: muscle tone and strength, sight and hearing senses, reflexes, coordination, and balance
• Blood test: to rule out other possible causes of confusion or memory loss
• Imaging tests: to detect changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s
• Mental status and neuropsychological assessment: to examine memory, other thinking skills, and mental function
8. Can Alzheimer’s be treated?
There is no complete cure for Alzheimer’s. However, certain drugs do help in reducing the symptoms and improving the quality of life. Few behavioural symptoms can be managed by identifying and avoiding the triggers causing depression, agitation, or anxiety.
9. How can family members help the patient?
Following steps can help to support the patient’s ability to function well:
• Ensure timely drug administration and keep a track on the patient’s medications
• Assess the patient’s daily routine and tasks completed
• Program important phone numbers and enable location capability on the mobile, to easily track the patient’s location
• Make sure that the patient carries an identification card or a medical alert card
• Install firm handrails in bathrooms and on stairways
• Ensure as much as possible to have regular appointments on the same day and time
10. What can be done to make meal time easier for an Alzheimer’s patient?
Varying range of choices, changes in smell, taste or perception can make it difficult for patients to have proper meals.
• Set the table in a simple way: avoid items (plastic fruits, baskets, etc.) that could confuse or distract the patient on the dining table
• At a time serve only 1 or 2 foods: too many dishes could also confuse the patient
• Let the patient take enough time to eat: remind the patient to chew and swallow food carefully
• Test the food temperature: the patient may find it difficult to recognize if the food or beverage is too hot or cold. Always check the temperature before serving
11. For how long do people with Alzheimer's live after developing the condition?
Every Alzheimer’s patient is different and the disease progression also differs from patient to patient. From the initial symptoms, on an average, Alzheimer’s patients can live from 8 years to 20 years.
12. Can the condition lead to complications?
Loss of memory and other cognitive changes may affect the treatment for other health conditions.
Patient may not be able to:
• Communicate symptoms of other diseases
• Adhere to the prescribed therapy
• Identify medication side-effects
Other complications include:
• Pneumonia or other infections
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