“Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that gets worse over time. It leads to nerve cell death, and tissue loss throughout the brain. Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions. It gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn and carry out daily activities such as talking, eating, and going to the bathroom” (What Is Alzheimer’s). Early symptoms include personality changes, memory impairment, problems with language, decision-making ability, judgment, and personality.
Alzheimer’s was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who died of an unusual mental illness. After she died, he examined her and found plaques and tangles in her brain which are the two main features of Alzheimer’s.
“Patients with Alzheimer’s often die earlier than normal, although a patient may live anywhere from 3-20 years after diagnosis.” Death often occurs from an infection or a failure of other body systems. “Early diagnosis relies largely on documenting mental decline. Biomarkers are reliable predictors and indicators of a disease process.” Alzheimer’s begins as early as 10 to 20 years before any problems are evident. It develops in your 30s, 40s, 50s, but usually after age 60. As many as 5.1 million Americans may have this disease.
“There is no specific test today that confirms you have Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor will make a judgment about whether Alzheimer's is the most likely cause of your symptoms based on the information you provide and results of various tests that can help clarify the diagnosis.” Doctors typically rely on physical and neurological exams to check your reflexes and sense of touch and sight, lab tests where doctors run blood tests, and mental status testing where they conduct a brief mental status test to assess your memory and other skills.
Brain imaging is a huge factor in helping to diagnose Alzheimer’s. Some of the technologies are computerized tomography, which is a body scan. It’s currently used mainly to rule out tumors, strokes, and head injuries. There is magnetic resonance imaging, which uses radio waves to produce a strong detailed image of your brain, and there is positron emission tomography, that injects you with a low-level radioactive tracer to show which parts of your brain aren’t functioning properly. Future diagnostic tools include additional approaches to brain imaging, measuring levels of proteins and patterns in blood, and more sensitive mental status tests.
There are 7 stages that a person goes through when experiencing Alzheimer’s. Stage 1 doesn’t include any memory impairment. Stage 2 involves very mild cognitive decline. “The person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses-forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects.” A stage 3 patient may have problems coming up with the right word or name. Stage 4 includes forgetfulness of recent events and...