Alzheimer’s Disease in Seniors

Alzheimer’s dementia is a progressive brain condition that affects memory and thinking skills and accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. Dementia is a general term that describes specific medical conditions involving complex brain changes resulting in the progressive decline of an individual’s memory and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s dementia can be broken down into early onset which is less common and usually affects those younger than 65, and late onset affecting those older than 65. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s dementia, treatment is available to help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease when identified early.

Common Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully known, but it is suspected that factors such as age, genetics, and environment may play a role in brain changes that occur. What is known is that two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are the likely cause of the damage and destruction of nerve cells in the brain seen in Alzheimer’s dementia. In autopsy reports of those who have died from Alzheimer’s dementia, plaques and tangles are found built up in and around nerve cells in areas of the brain responsible for memory and thinking, thus inhibiting their function and communication between nerve cells.

Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease can develop for many reasons. Common causes and risk factors of alzheimer’s disease include:
  • Age: It is important to note that developing Alzheimer’s dementia is not a normal part of aging, but the condition mostly affects those 65 and older, therefore age plays a significant factor in developing the condition.
  • Family history: Having a direct family history, such as a parent or sibling diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia, makes an individual more likely to develop the disease as well.
  • Lifestyle and chronic conditions: Growing research suggests that lifestyle aspects, such as diet, exercise and exposure to tobacco and alcohol, as well as associated chronic conditions in seniors such as heart disease and diabetes may all play a role in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia may vary. Typically, changes in memory that are disruptive to daily life, such as forgetting important dates or events, are the first signs of the disease. Additional symptoms include:
  • Challenges in developing or following plans and solving problems such as developing and managing a monthly budget
  • Difficulty completing familiar daily tasks such as completing a grocery list or following a known recipe
  • Confusion with time and place such as forgetting the time of day, where they are and how they got there
  • Difficulties with speaking or writing such as difficulties following and contributing to a conversation
  • Misplacing things and unable to retrace steps to find them
  • Decreased or poor decision making
  • Withdrawal from hobbies, activities, or other social responsibilities
  • Mood and personality changes such as feeling confused, suspicious, depressed, or anxious

How Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia begins with a visit with a senior healthcare provider to assess risks, past medical history, medications and discuss symptoms. This should then be followed by a complete physical exam including blood work to ensure there are no other underlying causes contributing to symptoms. The healthcare provider may then use a variety of different tests to help determine if an individual has Alzheimer’s dementia. Testing could include the following.


Cognitive, Functional, and Behavioral Testing

Question and answer tests are conducted by the healthcare provider in the clinic and are used to evaluate memory, thinking and simple problem-solving abilities. Examples are the Mini-Cog and Mini-Mental State Exam.


Brain Imaging

Images of the brain with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) are used to rule out other conditions which could be contributing to symptoms.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s dementia, although there are medications available to help manage symptoms through senior primary care and slow its progression. These medications, which can also be offered through preventive care for seniors, are most effective when given in the early or middle stages of the condition. These medications include the following.

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

The exact way the medications work is not known, but research indicates that they prevent the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is important for memory and thinking.

Disease Modifying Drugs

These are newer approved medications that target certain proteins in the brain to help reduce the development of amyloid plaque which are suspected to be what is causing the damage to nerve cells in those with Alzheimer’s dementia.

Alzheimer’s Treatment at Greater Good Health

At Greater Good Health, we are committed to providing the highest quality care, including Alzheimer’s treatment in chronic condition management for seniors. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s. Help us create a brighter, healthier future for you or your loved one.
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