Alzheimer's Disease and it's Definition, Signs and Symptoms.
What it is
1... The Definition of Alzheimer's Disease - What is Alzheimer's Disease?
The label Alzheimer's disease was termed after a German doctor, Alois Alzheimer, who, in 1906, identified two brain abnormalities in those with with this particular dementia: Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. If there is an excess of both of these in the brain and you are showing symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss and poor judgement, then you are diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease.
However, Alzheimer's disease has come to mean a much broader term that is sometimes given to people with early onset dementia - dementia that occurs early in life - whether or not they have the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. For example, a person with multi-infarct dementia may be labelled with Alzheimer's disease, if they develop the multi-infarct dementia in the 40 to 60 age range. Alzheimer's disease can often be more a diagnosis based on age of sufferer, rather than on the plaques and tangles ( which are very difficult to measure in the brain, short of an autopsy ).
The significance of these competing definitions of what Alzheimer's disease is, becomes apparent when trying to understand a doctor's diagnosis or a piece of research. Unless you can clarify what exactly the term Alzheimer's disease is referring to, you may misunderstand what is being said. Particularly relevant if you are going to try self treatment or similar.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer' Disease
2... The Early Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease - the failing sense of smell, loss of weight and memory loss - plus the later developing symptoms.
The inability to differentiate between scents, is the earliest sign and symptom of Alzheimer's Disease that we presently have. The ofactory (smell) senses are apparently the first to be damaged by Alzheimer's disease and other mental disorders, including schizophrenia. For Alzheimer's disease, the USA researchers found, using a scratch and sniff test, that if a person failed to recognise at least three out of the 10 scents presented to them, they were five times more likley to develop Alzheimer's. The scents used were: Lemon, orange, strawberry, lime, pineapple, fruit punch, lilac, soap, smoke, menthol, clove, cheese, grass, natural gas, leather and others. Obviously, if a person has a bad sense of smell from birth, then the test may be useless as an early warning sign - but for the rest of us, it may work.
The more traditional symptoms of dementia / Alzheimer's, such as memory loss, forgetfullness, realising you have driven way past where you were going, etc etc, are also common in those without the Alzheimer's / dementia. So, if you are like me, you may get a bit concerned when these more advanced symptoms appear, that is why I put the olfactory symptoms first, to help reduce the panic - I smell things just fine. For many elderly people, not just those of us in middle age, senescent forgetting is a benign annoying condition, which may not amount to anything more.
My mum, by the way, always told me she had a very poor sense of smell. I was born late in her life, around the time she was 38, so she was likely in her 40's or older when I recall her telling me this - a typical age for an Alzheimer's starting point. At circa 66 years of age, mum was misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - the diagnosis was presumably wrong in spite of the Alzheimer's symptoms she was supposedly showing, as there was no organic evidence of a dementing process, though she later came down with multi-infarct dementia years later.
Another early symptom of Alzheimer's disease is loss of weight. Doctors have found that a loss of 1 pound, or roughly half a kilogram per year was associated with a 5 percent increase in the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers believe that before Alzheimer's is evident, that the body is already showing signs and symptoms of being afflicted by losing weight for no apparent reason. Aron S. Buchman, et al, 2005.
Two other early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, one which may appear 10 to 20 years before the obvious onset of Alzheimer's, is an early decline in memory ability; the second is APOE e4 (a genetic marker) and so present from birth. When the two are present in an individual, the possibility of developing Alzheimer's is stronger. Dr. Caselli, et al., 2004.
The Common Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease:
The Alzheimer's disease dementing process gradually erodes memories, creates lapses in concentration, declining abilities, can give rise to hallucinations and delusions, later incontinence and, in the final stages of the Alzheimer's disease, causes the sufferer to become bed ridden and, for all intents and purposes, nearly brain dead, before premature death occurs.
Although all this is hard on loved ones, the most difficult Alzheimer's disease symptom for the loved ones I found, was when the delusions set in. The delusions are almost a universal symptom of Alzheimer's disease, very common. The delusions typically revolve around the loved ones and carers being hurtful and betraying. You may pick up a letter written in secret, but which they forgot to post, stating how bad you were, stealing, taking ... It's one hurtful symptom.
3... Typical age of onset of those with Alzheimer's and their typical remaining life span.
Often Alzheimer's disease manifests itself around age 40 to 60 years and sometimes much later. An Alzheimer's sufferer typically lives 8 to 10 years after the diagnosis is made, sometimes not as long and, sometimes up to 25 years longer.
For those aged over 55, Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared disease, with over half of those aged over 85 coming down with it (MetLife, 2006).
4... Alzheimer's disease and Misdiagnosis.
In the general population, the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and dementia is sometimes wrong! The cause of the Alzheimer's disease SYMPTOMS, or any dementia SYMPTOMS, can be depression, vitamin deficiency, urinary tract infection and so on. People are being incorrectly diagnosed with dementia or having Alzheimer's disease when, in fact, they have a reversible condition.
In one study, doctors found that Alzheimer's disease was too readily diagnosed and that the decline was often reversible and NOT Alzheimer's related (For example, if the decline in behaviour was due to depression, when the depression was treated, the behaviour returned to normal).
Incidentally, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease many years ago. Her CAT scans later showed no evidence of Alzheimer's disease nor dementia within her brain, but that misdiagnosis of Alzheimer's disease caused us much initial sorrow and shedding of tears, as we tried to come to terms with her having Alzheimer's disease. Years later she came down with multi-infarct dementia.
You cannot make a firm and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, unless all these other possibilities for the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are ruled out.
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