and the disease progresses at a different pace according to the individual
and the areas of the brain affected. A person's abilities may fluctuate
in severity from day to day or even within the one day, becoming worse
in times of stress, fatigue, ill-health etc. However, there is always a
deterioration over time.
stages are not immediately obvious and may be dismissed as "just a
passing" phase. You may notice:
and frequent memory difficulties (especially of recent events), often associated
with personality change (such as aggression or obsessiveness), vagueness
in everyday conversation and apparent loss of enthusiasm for activities
(or giving up activities);
- taking longer
to do routine tasks, losing the point of the conversation, repeating oneself,
forgetting well-known people or places, inability to process questions
and instructions, loss of manual skills, deterioration of social skills,
emotional unpredictability, loss of language skills. The person may not
be aware of the severity of the problem: this is called "lack of insight"
and is part of the disease:
- loss of memory
of well-learned information and skills: how to dress, eat and walk, and
when to sleep
- in more advanced
stages, physical symptoms such as weight loss and incontinence may occur;
- new behaviours
may occur such as hallucinations or misinterpretations.
THE SAME AS BEING FORGETFUL?
- No: forgetting,
in itself, is not necessarily cause for alarm;
- most people
experience normal lapses of memory and concentration. With age, memory
recall becomes slower and learning new things takes longer - there can
be many causes of this other than Alzheimer's, particularly stress, anxiety
- loss of memory
with Alzheimer's is persistent, progressive and disruptive, and is usually
accompanied by other symptoms.
- it does not
discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin.
- women have
a slightly greater chance of developing Alzheimer's disease than men, even
when allowance is made for their longer life span. Scientists are investigating
whether hormone replacement therapy reduces this risk.
- the risk
increases with age: it is estimated that the prevalence of moderate to
severe dementia is 10% for people 65 and over, 20% for people 75 and over
and 47% for people 85 and over;
Alzheimer's occurs mostly in people in their 70s and 80s, it can appear
in people in their 40s or younger;
THE KNOWN RISK FACTORS?
- Being a first
degree relative (defined as child, brother, sister or parent) of someone
who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's;
- being a person
with Down Syndrome or a family history of Down Syndrome
- head injury.
- at present
there is no proven cause, except in a few cases where the disease is inherited
- a variety
of other suspected causes are being investigated including lifestyle/environmental
factors, biochemical disturbances and immune processes.
- at present
there is no proven medical treatment which will cure or slow down the disease;
- drug therapies
to ease the symptoms or slow progression are under active study;
there is no cure, there have been many advances in support services for
those with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
WHAT IS THE
- From the
onset of symptoms, the person with Alzheimer's may have a lifespan of from
three to 20 years, with the average 7-10 years.
A TEST FOR ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?
- There is
no single test to identify Alzheimer's at this stage. Rather, the diagnosis
is made after a careful clinical consultation. A visit by a community Aged
Care Assessment Team or service can provide additional information and
support by assessing, in addition to a person's medical state, their functional
skills and deficits, and their social supports and stresses;
- a careful
clinical consultation can be obtained from an appropriately trained person
such as a GP interested in aged care, a specialised geriatrician, psychogeriatrician
- this clinical
diagnosis might include a detailed medical history, and thorough physical
and neurological examination, a test of intellectual function, a psychiatric
assessment, a neuropsychological test and perhaps a range of laboratory
of Alzheimer's disease is called "diagnosis by exclusion" because
tests eliminate other conditions with similar symptoms such as reaction
to drugs, nutritional deficiencies or depression and many others;
- after eliminating
other causes, a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's can be made (with about
80-90% accuracy) if the symptoms and signs are appropriate;
- the combined
clinical consultation and community assessment will tell you what the illness
may be, whether it can be treated, the extent of the disability, the areas
in which the person can still function successfully, and the changes you
can expect in the future.