Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. It can affect memory, thinking skills and other mental abilities.1 Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in the UK.1 The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells that connect to each other. In Alzheimer’s disease, connections between these cells are lost. This is because proteins build up and form abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. Eventually nerve cells die and brain tissue is lost.2 The brain also contains important chemicals that help to send signals between cells. People with Alzheimer’s have less of some of these ‘chemical messengers’ in their brain, so the signals are not passed on as well.2
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop, and they also get worse.2
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Generally, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are divided into 3 main stages.3
In the early stages, the main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory lapses.
As Alzheimer’s disease develops, memory problems will get worse.
Someone with the condition may find it increasingly difficult to remember the names of people they know and may struggle to recognise their family and friends.
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms become increasingly severe and can be distressing for the person with the condition, as well as their carers, friends and family.
Hallucinations and delusions may come and go over the course of the illness, but can get worse as the condition progresses.
Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease can be violent, demanding and suspicious of those around them.
Although the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, there are several factors that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease including increasing age, family history, history of severe head injury, smoking, obesity and high cholesterol etc.4
References: 1) NHS. Alzheimer’s Disease. www.nhs.uk/conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx. (accessed October 2019). 2) Alzheimer’s Society. What is Alzheimer’s Disease? https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20007/types_of_dementia/2/alzheimers_disease (accessed October 2019) 3) NHS. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. (accessed October 2019). 4) NHS. Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Causes.aspx (accessed October 2019)