What is Alzheimer’s disease?

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes memory impairment, and is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is most commonly diagnosed after age 65, however, there is a type called “early-onset Alzheimer’s disease” that is diagnosed prior to age 65. There are two classifications of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease (ClinicalKey).

Mild cognitive impairment has slight deficits in memory, however, it does not impair functioning pertinent to daily activities. In dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, patients have a severe functional deficit. When diagnosing Alzheimer’s, it is helpful to have a close friend or family member assist when asked questions about the progression of memory loss. Patients may lose the ability to complete multiple tasks at once, become distracted much easier, have trouble finding the right word, and may get lost in places that they are familiar with (ClinicalKey). These symptoms can lead to depression and social disengagement for fear of embarrassment, or if they are trying to mask the symptoms. 

To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, a provider may administer a cognitive screening or a Mini-Mental State Examination. These tests will ask a series of questions that have the patient complete various tasks, testing their cognitive ability. In diagnosing, it is also important to rule out other possible causes of memory impairment such as medication side effects, Parkinson’s disease, or cognitive decline from stroke or other brain injuries. There are several drugs that are approved in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, such as memantine, donepezil and rivastigmine. There is ongoing research for more beneficial therapies, however, there is still no cure. 

It is important to note that patients with Alzheimer’s disease may forget basic hygiene, bathroom habits, and eating habits. This patient population requires a strong support group to help with these tasks. An easy way to help is to leave notes around the house to help orient them, and to help when they cannot remember something. If there is not someone able to stay with the patient, there are also memory care centers that can assist with the patients’ needs.

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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