Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia, affecting approximately 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and above as of 2023. With the continual increase in the population of those aged 65 and above, this number is anticipated to rise.

Dementia is a broad term encompassing changes in brain function resulting from various causes. Different types of dementia—like Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia—are diagnosed based on the nature and origins of brain changes along with the resultant symptoms.

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is triggered by neuronal damage and the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain. Neurons are the nerve cells in the brain vital for communication within the brain, contributing to intellectual and physical function. As neurons become compromised, individuals may notice alterations in memory, language, and cognition. As more neurons get affected, behavioral changes and difficulty with self-care might also emerge.

Drawing a clear line between age-related cognitive changes and signs of Alzheimer’s disease is crucial. Both might exhibit changes in memory and cognitive processes, but the symptoms are more frequent and progressive in Alzheimer’s disease compared to sporadic occurrences in age-related cognitive changes.

Alzheimer’s disease generally undergoes various stages of progression:

– Preclinical: The brain starts undergoing changes, including the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins, but no symptoms are noticeable. Intriguingly, these brain changes can begin over two decades before symptoms emerge.

– Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI): In this unofficial stage, the individual begins to perceive cognitive changes that others might not yet notice. SCI could potentially progress to MCI and Alzheimer’s disease but it’s not guaranteed.

– Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): Marked by minor cognitive function changes, MCI symptoms are usually noticeable to the individual and their close circle. However, these subtle changes may go unnoticed by others.

– Mild Alzheimer’s disease: The individual starts experiencing difficulty with daily cognitive and physical functions.

– Moderate Alzheimer’s disease: The individual struggles with many of their daily cognitive and physical tasks.

– Severe Alzheimer’s disease: The individual finds most of their daily cognitive and physical tasks challenging.

Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease arises from both non-modifiable and modifiable factors. Non-modifiable risk factors are unchangeable, while modifiable factors present avenues for intervention and potential prevention or deceleration of disease progression.

The development of Alzheimer’s disease can be influenced by risk factors that are inherently unchangeable or non-modifiable. These include age, genetics, and family history. With age, the risk of cognitive deterioration and Alzheimer’s diagnosis progressively escalates – a testament to the disease’s strong correlation with advancing years. Furthermore, genetic predispositions play a crucial role. Certain genetic mutations and variants can significantly heighten the susceptibility to the disease. Family history also shapes the risk landscape. If a person has one or more direct family members, such as siblings or parents, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the risk factor compounds. Thus, these non-modifiable risk factors constitute an important aspect of the disease’s onset and progression.