Diagnosis and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease: Current Challenges
Prepared by Ms. Rawan Al-Juweed
Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, is a degenerative disorder of the brain that leads to memory loss1. AD affects 5.3 million Americans and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. There are two main forms of the disease. Familial AD affects people younger than 65, accounting for nearly 500,000 AD cases in the United States alone1. The remainder of AD cases occur in adults aged 65 and older and is classified as sporadic AD. The prevalence of AD varies among many different factors, including age, co-morbidities, ...view middle of the document...
Severe memory loss, characteristic of AD, is not a symptom of normal aging. Healthy aging may involve the gradual loss of hair, weight, height and muscle mass. Skin may become more fragile and bone density can be lost. A decrease in hearing and vision may occur, as well as a decrease in metabolic rate. It is common to have a slight decline in memory, such as slower recall of information, however cognitive decline that impacts daily life is not a normal part of the aging process5.
Dementia is defined as the significant loss of cognitive abilities severe enough to interfere with social functioning6. It can result from various diseases that cause damage to brain cells. There are many different types of dementia, each with its own cause and symptoms. For example, vascular dementia is caused by decreased blood flow to a part of the brain, as caused by a stroke. Dementia may also be present in patients with Parkinson’s disease and hydrocephalus. AD is the most common form of dementia, caused by the build-up of beta amyloid plaques in the brain1.
AD progresses gradually and can last for decades. There are three main stages of the disease, each with its own challenges and symptoms. By identifying the current stage of the disease, physicians can predict what symptoms can be expected in the future and possible courses of treatment. Each case of AD presents with a unique set of symptoms, varying in severity.
Early-Stage Alzheimer’s disease
This mild stage, which usually lasts 2 to 4 years, is often when the disease is first diagnosed. In this stage, family and friends may begin to realize that there has been a decline in the patient’s cognitive ability. Common symptoms at this stage include2,7:
Difficulty retaining new information
Difficulty with problem solving or decision making. Patients may start to have trouble managing finances or other instrumental activities of daily living.
Personality changes. The person may begin to withdraw socially or show lack of motivation.
Difficulty expressing thoughts
Misplacing belongings or getting lost. The patient may have difficulty navigating in familiar surroundings.
Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
Lasting 2 to 10 years, this is longest stage of the disease. Patients often experience increased difficulty with memory and may need help with activities of daily living. Symptoms frequently reported during this stage include2,7:
Increasingly poor judgment and confusion. The patient may begin to confuse family members, lose orientation to time and place, and may begin wandering, making it unsafe for them to be left alone.
Difficulty completing complex tasks, including many of the instrumental activities of daily living, such as managing finances, grocery shopping, planning, and organization.
Greater memory loss. Patients may begin to forget details of their personal history.
Significant personality changes. The person may become...