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Dementia of the Alzheimer type

Alzheimer’s Disease

Definition

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 cause 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

Early symptoms

In the early stages, the main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory lapses.

For example, someone with early Alzheimer’s disease may:

  • forget about recent conversations or events
  • misplace items
  • forget the names of places and objects
  • have trouble thinking of the right word
  • ask questions repetitively
  • show poor judgement or find it harder to make decisions
  • become less flexible and more hesitant to try new things

There are often signs of mood changes, such as increasing anxiety or agitation, or periods of confusion.

Middle-stage symptoms

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.

Other symptoms may also develop, such as:

  • increasing confusion and disorientation – for example, getting lost, or wandering and not knowing what time of day it is
  • obsessive, repetitive or impulsive behaviour
  • delusions (believing things that are untrue) or feeling paranoid and suspicious about carers or family members
  • problems with speech or language (aphasia)
  • disturbed sleep
  • changes in mood, such as frequent mood swings, depression and feeling increasingly anxious, frustrated or agitated
  • difficulty performing spatial tasks, such as judging distances
  • seeing or hearing things that other people do not (hallucinations)

Later symptoms

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.

A number of other symptoms may also develop as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, such as:

  • difficulty eating and swallowing (dysphagia)
  • difficulty changing position or moving around without assistance
  • weight loss – sometimes severe
  • unintentional passing of urine (urinary incontinence) or stools (bowel incontinence)
  • gradual loss of speech
  • significant problems with short- and long-term memory

Risk Factors
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 May 2024).
2) Alzheimer’s Society. What is Alzheimer’s Disease? https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20007/types_of_dementia/2/alzheimers_disease (accessed May 2024)
3) NHS. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. (accessed May 2024).
4) NHS. Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Causes.aspx (accessed May 2024)

Alzheimer’s Disease Resources

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