Recently at the care home where I volunteer, I have been made aware of Alzheimer’s disease which affects some of the residents. I knew about dementia, however did not know that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
The majority of people affected by the condition are over the age of 65, although there are 40,000 people in the UK who suffer the disease and are under 65. The symptoms develop progressively, however the disease can be experienced in different ways so the symptoms are unique to each individual. Most importantly is memory loss due to the damage of the hippocampus (part of the brain), thus memories from a long time ago still exist in the early stages; it is the memory linked to daily life which is affected primarily. Other symptoms include language difficulties, physical judgement, orientation and difficulty in organising or concentrating. In the later stages the person may develop behaviour which is unfamiliar, have difficultly physically walking and eating; increasingly needing the help of their carer.
The disease physically affects the brain due to the building up of proteins that form plaques within the brain. Consequently, there is loss of the connections between nerve cells leading to the cells deaths causing brain tissue to be lost. Hence, those with Alzheimer’s lack significant chemicals in the brain which usually transit signals around this vital organ. There are treatments that aid the amount of chemical messengers there are present, however there is no preventative cure. Drugs such as donepezil may be prescribed to help with some of the symptoms in the mild stages of the disease. Memantine is given during the moderate stages to deal with mental abilities and challenging daily living. Other activities such as reading or attempting puzzles benefit sufferers as they cause them to exercise their brain to stay mentally active.
The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK is a key charity that is researching into the disease in order to find a cure. To donate or find out more go to: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/index.php.