Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. This disease was first discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 after an autopsy on a female patient. Dr Alzheimer discovered that the brain cells in the cerebral cortex of the patient were very different from normal brain cells. The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain that controls memory and logic. Dr. Alzheimer also found tangles of a plaque substance in the brain. These are formed by the build up of beta-amyloid clumping together.
The onset of Alzheimer’s disease usually happens progressively after the age of 60 and the risk for the disease increases with age. The symptoms may be very subtle and go unnoticed in the early stages.
Early Stage Symptoms:
• Personality changes
• Frequent and unexplained mood swings
• Difficulty with thinking and reasoning
• Temporal sense of confusion outside the house or neighbourhood
• Difficulty performing tasks that the person could perform in the past
Moderate Stage Symptoms:
• Inability to perform tasks such as bathing or toileting
• Loss of personal hygiene (such as wearing the same dirty clothes, day after day)
• Aggressive behaviour
• Difficulty with speech and communication
Late Stage Symptoms:
• Complete incontinence of bowels and bladder, requiring adult diaper usage
• Rage for no apparent reason
• Aphasia (difficulty speaking to others or understanding the words that are spoken by others)
• Extreme paranoia or suspiciousness
• Slow or slurred speech, making comprehension hard
• Taking ages or having problem performing simple tasks like dressing oneself
Medications can be prescribed to delay the progression of the symptoms but there are currently no known medications that can halt or cure Alzheimer’s disease. Caregiving for a next of kin that has Alzheimer’s disease is particularly stressful and cumbersome. This is even more so as the disease worsens with age. Psychologically, it is also very draining on the caregiver. Hence, it comes as no surprise when most will consider long term nursing care for their next of kin when their Alzheimer’s disease has worsened.
PS: If you need more information on Alzheimer’s disease, do visit the Alzheimer’s Association.