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What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. In Australia, it affects 1 in 10 over the age of 65, and 3 in 10 over the age of 85. Alzheimer’s disease results in a decline in memory, often followed by difficulties with problem solving and planning, confusion, impaired judgment and changes in mood or personality. Symptoms are mainly due to an abnormal buildup of proteins (amyloid plaques and tau tangles) which impair the function of neurons (nerve cells) within the brain leading to neuronal loss and brain atrophy (shrinking). In the initial stages of the disease, these changes mainly occur in the memory forming centres of the brain (the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex). With time, these changes become more widespread, accounting for the progressive nature of symptoms.

Stages

7 stages of Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s disease is often categorised into seven stages to describe the progression of symptoms. These stages include:

1. No impairment

No symptoms are present, and the individual functions normally.

2. Very mild cognitive decline

Minor memory lapses and difficulties in finding words may be noticed. Usual daily activities remain unaffected.

3. Mild cognitive decline

Mild memory and cognitive problems become more evident, affecting work or social life.

4. Moderate cognitive decline

Clearer signs of memory loss, confusion, and difficulty with everyday tasks become apparent.

5. Moderately severe cognitive decline

Assistance is required with daily activities, and memory gaps become more pronounced.

6. Severe cognitive decline

Individuals experience severe memory loss and difficulty recognising loved ones, and they require extensive assistance.

7. Very severe cognitive decline

Individuals lose the ability to communicate and require total assistance with daily care.

Causes

Causes of Alzheimer's Disease

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still not fully understood. However, researchers believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contribute to its development. Certain genes, most notably the APOE ε4 allele, have been identified as risk factors for the disease. 40-65% of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have the APOE ε4 allele.

Other factors that may increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s include:

  • Advancing age
  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Head injuries
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
Symptoms

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s disease typically begins with mild memory impairment.

Common symptoms include:

  • Decline in memory (usually recently acquired memory, long term memory often intact)
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Difficulty with problem-solving and planning
  • Language difficulties
  • Changes in mood, personality and behaviour
alzheimer's disease treatment

Seeking early medical treatment for Alzheimer’s can help manage the symptoms.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

alzheimer's disease treatment

Feelings of disorientation, confusion, and forgetfulness may be symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

An accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease involves:

  • A comprehensive evaluation of a person’s medical history
  • Cognitive/neuropsychological testing (such as the MOCA, MMSE and ACE III tests)
  • A neurologic examination
    Laboratory tests which may include blood tests, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and genetic testing
  • MRI or PET imaging may also be performed to assess brain structure and function
Treatment

Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, various treatments can help manage the symptoms, improve quality of life, and slow down the progression of the disease.

These treatments may include:

Lifestyle Modifications

Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep, may contribute to overall brain health and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Cognitive Stimulation

Engaging in cognitive activities, such as puzzles, reading, and social interactions, can help maintain mental functioning and slow cognitive decline.

Medications

Several medications are available to alleviate cognitive symptoms and manage behavioural changes in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. These medications work by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain and can temporarily improve memory and thinking abilities. Medications currently available in Australia include:

  • Donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine (cholinesterase inhibitors): for early – mid stage Alzheimer’s disease (mild to moderately severe)
  • Memantine (NMDA antagonist): for later stage Alzheimer’s disease (moderate to severe)

Newer treatments, aducanumab and lecanemab, have recently shown promise in clinical trials and have been approved for use in the United States. They are not currently available for routine use in Australia.

Additional medications may be prescribed to manage behavioural changes such as agitation and aggression, depression and poor sleep.

Supportive Therapies

Various supportive therapies, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and music therapy, can help individuals with Alzheimer’s disease maintain their independence and enhance their quality of life.

Clinical Trials

Participation in clinical trials offers access to innovative treatments and interventions that aim to slow down or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. CURA Medical Specialists actively engage in cutting-edge research and clinical trials to provide patients with the opportunity to access these groundbreaking therapies.

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and usually presents with short term memory impairment. Whilst there is no cure, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. A number of novel treatments have recently shown promise in clinical trials, and may be available in Australia in the near future.

Why Choose Us

Choose CURA Medical Specialists for Your Alzheimer's Disease Treatment

Our experienced team at CURA Medical Specialists specialise in providing personalised, expert care for those with Neurologic conditions. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.

Meet our friendly and professional team

Dr Hugh Stephen Winters

Dr. Hugh Stephen Winters

MBChB (Auckland) FRACP (Neurology) CCINR (Neurology)

Dr Hugh Stephen Winters is a skilled interventional neurologist with extensive expertise in utilising modern techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as stroke, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, and aneurysms.

Dr. Timothy Ang

MBBS, FRACP (Neurology), Head of Committee for CCINR

Dr Timothy Ang is a highly skilled interventional neurologist who uses cutting-edge medical imaging to diagnose and treat neurovascular and neurological diseases, including stroke, intracranial hypertension, headache, migraine and aneurysms.

Dr Timothy Ang
Dr Kartik Bhatia

Dr. Kartik Bhatia

MBBS, BMedSci (Hons), MS, PhD, FRANZCR, CCINR

Dr Kartik Bhatia is an interventional neuroradiologist who treats both children and adults.

Dr. Christopher Blair​

BSc (Hons I), MBBS (Hons I), DPhil (York), FRACP

Dr Christopher Blair​ neurology advanced trainee from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Liverpool Hospitals Chris has gained rich experience in the treatment of all types of neurological disorders.

Dr. Christopher Blair
FAQ

FAQs

For more information please read our most frequently asked questions:

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, various treatments and interventions are available to manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve the quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Coping with Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging for both patients and their carers. Supportive strategies include maintaining a structured routine, creating a safe environment, providing emotional support, and accessing community resources such as support groups and respite care. Planning for the future is also important – consider those you trust to make decisions on your behalf and tell them in advance what your preferences are for ongoing care and support.

Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease allows for timely intervention and the implementation of treatments that can potentially slow down disease progression and manage symptoms more effectively. Treatment options are more effective when initiated in the early stages of the disease.

While Alzheimer’s disease can occur at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in individuals aged 65 and older.

There is also a less common form of the disease called early or young onset Alzheimer’s disease.  This refers to individuals diagnosed with the disease before age 65, typically in their 40s or 50s.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of ageing. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are not inevitable and can be prevented or delayed. Please refer to “The difference between normal age-related memory changes and dementia.”

PLEASE NOTE: This information is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment. It is aimed at presenting a perspective only and is not a substitute for a prescription or clinical assessment. Anyone experiencing a medical condition should consult their doctor.
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