Alzheimer's or dementia

February 19, 2011

Alzheimer's disease or simply Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. This degenerative disease, so far incurable and terminal, was first described in 1906 by the German neuro-phatologist Alois Alzheimer.

This disease generally affects people over 65 years, although its diagnosis is possible in an earlier stage.

Each patient suffers from Alzheimer's disease in a unique way, but there are points in common, and the evolution of the disease is divided into four phases:

First stage

The first symptoms are often falsely associated with ageing or stress. Some neuropsychological tests can reveal many cognitive disabilities to eight years before being able to diagnose Alzheimer's in full.

The primary symptom is the loss of short-term memory (difficulty in remembering recently learned facts), a patient loses the ability to pay attention to something, you lose flexibility in thinking and abstract thought, can start losing their semantic memory.

Second phase (mild dementia)

Some patients have difficulties in language, with the main functions, perception (agnosia), or execution of movements (apraxia), more striking than the loss of memory.

Language problems usually involve the reduction of vocabulary and greater difficulty in speech, leading to a general impoverishment of language. The patient may seem sloppy to make some simple motor tasks (writing, dressing, etc) owing to coordination problems.

Third phase

The progressive degeneration hinders independence. The difficulty in speech becomes evident due to the inability to remember vocabulary. Progressively, the patient will lose the ability to read and write and will no longer be able to do even the simplest of all daily tasks.

During this phase, memory problems worsen and the patient may fail to recognise his relatives and acquaintances.

Long-term memory will be lost and behavioural changes will be worse. The most common manifestations are apathy, irritability and emotional instability, crying, unexpected attacks of aggression etc.

Fourth stage (terminal)

During the last phase the patient is completely dependent on other people. The language is now reduced to simple phrases or even single words, eventually  leading to loss of speech.

However, aggression can still be present, and extreme apathy and exhaustion  are quite common. The patient will not be able to perform the simplest tasks without help.

His muscle mass and mobility degenerate to a point where the  patient has to lie on bed and ultimately will lose the ability to eat alone.

Prevention and treatment

Studies of the measures to prevent or delay the effects of Alzheimer's are often inconclusive. However, some studies say that the inclusion of fruit and vegetables, bread, wheat and other cereals, olive oil, fish, and red wine may reduce Alzheimer's risk. Vitamins such as B12, B3, C and B9 were linked to lower risk of Alzheimer's.

Intellectual activities like reading, playing board games (chess, checkers, etc), crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, or regular socialisation may also delay the onset or the severity of Alzheimer's.

The treatment aims at comforting the patient and delaying the disease progression. Some drugs are useful during the onset of the disease and the dose should be personalised.