Authored by Revere Health

Alzheimer’s and Other Memory Diseases

December 13, 2016 | Neurology


There are many conditions that can become more likely or more severe as we age, and several of them include issues in the brain. It’s natural in many people for elements of the brain to start failing before their bodies do the same, and sometimes this causes diseases people have to live with for several years.

A good example of this type of condition is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects memory, and is the primary cause of dementia. In some circles, Alzheimer’s is just considered a form of dementia. Alzheimer’s usually starts out with mild symptoms and progresses over long periods of time into something more serious. While there are medications to help treat the symptoms, there is no true cure.

What are some of the common warning signs, symptoms and treatment methods for Alzheimer’s disease?


Risk Factors and Causes

Doctors are still working to completely understand the exact causes of Alzheimer’s, but there is a general consensus that three broad factors are most important:

  • Genetic factors
  • Life choices
  • Environmental factors

While we can’t yet pinpoint these factors as direct causes, there are several elements known to increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Genetic factors – in particular, Down syndrome sufferers get Alzheimer’s earlier and more often than normal
  • Age – highest individual risk factor for Alzheimer’s
  • Gender – women more likely
  • Lifestyle – exercise, diet, habits (smoking, etc), diabetes
  • Low education level
  • Severe head trauma earlier in life


Symptoms and Potential Complications

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s typically start out pretty mildly, with bouts of confusion here or there. As time wears on, though, things get worse. Different people see the disease progress at different rates, and part of what makes it difficult to diagnose is that the person suffering from it often can’t tell what’s happening because they can’t remember.

Specific symptoms of Alzheimer’s as it progresses include:

  • Memory: Forgetting events, losing things, getting lost in places you’ve been before, and even forgetting friends and family members
  • Impaired judgement
  • Depression and other mood and behavior changes
  • Damaged reasoning skills
  • Inability to perform basic tasks

Certain core memories we create early in life are the last ones taken by Alzheimer’s – in some cases, people actually pass away before these skills are completely gone. Some of these include:

  • Enjoying music
  • Telling stories
  • Singing and dancing
  • Reading

Despite maintaining early memories, Alzheimer’s is a frustrating disease, especially in its later stages. Forgetting the people you love and losing basic functions you’ve had your entire life are tough situations to deal with, especially with the knowledge (in some people) that your life may be drawing to a close.

In the later stages, Alzheimer’s also affects the brain in a way that it can’t manage certain parts of the body. This means sufferers are at a higher risk for other dangerous conditions. And of course, reporting the symptoms of these conditions is difficult for many of these people.


Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is based on symptoms alone. There are no tests, and doctors only know someone had Alzheimer’s with 100 percent certainty when they examine the brain after death. Blood tests might help rule out other diseases, but they won’t prove Alzheimer’s.

There are tests that help give strong indicators, though. A couple of the main ones include:

  • Basic neurological exam: Tests reflexes, balance, coordination, etc.
  • Mental status test
  • Brain imaging: MRI, CT scans and PET scans can all help find changes Alzheimer’s has caused in the brain

As we noted above, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment focuses on limiting symptoms and increasing comfort and quality of life. A few of the primary treatment areas include:

  1. Environment: Confusion and memory loss are often the toughest parts of Alzheimer’s to deal with. Whatever habits and bits of comfort they can hold onto are vital. Create standard places for important items, and keep a calendar visible whenever possible. Try to create as many routines as the patient can handle. Most phones now have location services – turn those on and make sure the patient has a phone with them whenever they’re alone.
  2. Medications: Meant to help with memory and other brain changes. Cholinesterase inhibitors help replace damaged transmitters in the brain, and a drug called Namenda can help slow down certain symptoms. Antidepressants are sometimes used for symptoms. None of these drugs are much more than a temporary fix, though.
  3. Exercise: Can help improve mood and sleep, and help keep a routine.
  4. Diet: It’s tougher for Alzheimer’s patients to eat and drink enough. Doctors suggest lots of water and juice, and to help with missed meals, shakes and smoothies are a good idea.

Some people look to vitamins and herbal supplements, but while these may limit symptoms for some people, there’s no scientific evidence that they’re effective. If they make the patient feel like things are improving, though, then there’s no downside to using them as long as they’re not dangerous in any way.


Revere Health Neurology specialists treat patients with a variety of neurological disorders.





The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.