Alzheimer’s disease, also called senile dementia, is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder which progresses as one ages. It is a type of dementia that affects the memory of an individual, and this happens mainly because this disease causes the brain to shrink and along with that the brain cells die. The symptoms, which will be discussed below in this blog, may start appearing after age 60, and the risk increases with age.
Around 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. alone, and this figure is expected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060 (Matthews et al., 2018).
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s are usually noticed after the age of 60, and they are progressive in nature, i.e. their severity generally increases over time, if left untreated.
The common symptoms of Alzheimer’s are:-
- Memory Loss- This is the hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s. In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, this is the most commonly observed symptom, wherein individuals start forgetting recently learned information, and also general information like important dates or events. They may also ask the same questions over and over, like “who are you?”, “where am I?” etc. As the disease progresses, such individuals may need to use memory aids for normal functioning (e.g stickers, notes, electronic devices etc.) or even rely on their family members or a caretaker.
- Confusion in Planning- Individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s may seem to appear confused and dazed with respect to activities and situations which are not happening immediately around them. This can be seen in planning things for a future event, where they may have problems in understanding the concept of the passage of time, and hence forget dates and important events.
- Changes in Behaviour and Personality- Since Alzheimer’s affects the size of the brain and results in the death of brain cells, this has an effect on the personality and behaviour of the individual.
This may look like:
- Social withdrawal
- Irregularities in Sleeping Patterns
- Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen
- Lack of motivation and interest in activities once enjoyed (apathy)
- Mood swings
- Cognitive Decline- Alzheimer’s makes it difficult for individuals to think clearly and focus on a particular thing. This may be observed in patients’ inability to deal with numbers and perform complex tasks which require some level of reasoning and problem solving.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is the most commonly found type of dementia. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM V), dementia has been renamed as Major Neurocognitive Disorder and Minor Neurocognitive Disorder.
For Major Neurocognitive Disorder, the DSM 5 criteria is:-
- There should be a history of Alzheimer’s disease in the family’s genetic make-up.
- The following 3 symptoms must be present:
- Overtly observable memory loss and decline in the level of learning and at least one other cognitive domain (logical reasoning, problem solving etc).
- A progressive and gradual decline in cognition, without extended plateaus.
- The mentioned symptoms should not be present because of the presence of another neurodegenerative or cerebrovascular disease, neurological, mental, or systemic disease or condition which is likely to be the reason for the cognitive decline.
The diagnosis of the Minor Neurocognitive Disorder is fairly similar to that of Major Neurocognitive Disorder, but the “key distinction between major and mild NCD is that persons with major NCD experience a substantial decline in function (loss of independence) as a result of profound cognitive impairment, whereas subjects with mild NCD experience only a modest cognitive decline and, as a result, function relatively independently” (Stokin et al., 2015).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, October 26). What is alzheimer’s disease? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm
MacGill, M. (2020, September 22). Alzheimer’s disease: Symptoms, stages, causes, and treatments. Medical News Today. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159442.
Matthews, K. A., Xu, W., Gaglioti, A. H., Holt, J. B., Croft, J. B., Mack, D., & McGuire, L. C. (2018). Racial and ethnic estimates of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the United States (2015–2060) in adults aged≥ 65 years. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2018.06.3063
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, June 26). Alzheimer’s disease. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447.
Stokin, G. B., Krell-Roesch, J., Petersen, R. C., & Geda, Y. E. (2015). Mild Neurocognitive Disorder: An Old Wine in a New Bottle. Harvard review of psychiatry, 23(5), 368–376. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000084