Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive and degenerative brain disorder, which attacks the nerve cells of your brain. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM, a manual used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders, updated in May 2013)has categorized this condition under ‘Neurocognitive Disorders’ and may be referred to as ‘Alzheimer’s Neurocognitive Disorder’ in future. The damage caused to the brain cells eventually leads to loss of memory and other mental functions, such as ability to think and behave. AD is considered to be the most common cause of dementia – a clinical condition characterized by loss of cognitive functioning. It may also affect your intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. AD is generally referred to as the disease of elderly because it mainly affects people aged 60 years and older. However, less prevalent early-onset form may develop at a much earlier age.
AD is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. The history dates back to 1906 when Dr. Alzheimer presented a case of a 51-year-old woman who died of an unusual mental illness. This woman had complains of memory loss and showed unexplained changes in behavior. Dr. Alzheimer conducted post-mortem studies of her brain and noticed many abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers, which are now identified as the main pathological features of AD.
AD is considered to be the sixth leading cause of death in the US. According to recent estimates from US for the year 2013, nearly five million people aged 65 and older suffer from AD. It is estimated that by 2050, one in every 85 persons worldwide will be living with the disease. In the US, the number of elderly especially those above the age of 85 years, is projected to increase by 135% by year 2050. In the developing parts of the world, especially Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, the percent of elderly is projected to double between 2000 and 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa, currently has the smallest proportion of elderly population; however, by 2030, the older population in this region is estimated to grow by 2.3 times. Since age the most common non-modifiable risk factor for AD, the rapidly aging population is a concern for the healthcare.
The exact causes behind AD are not fully known yet. However, the scientists suspect that the damage to brain cells begins almost a decade or more before the actual symptoms are obvious. AD is an irreversible condition. This means that there is no ultimate cure for this disease. The available treatment strategies mainly aim towards improving your symptoms and reducing your dependency on others by maximizing your functional abilities.
People suffering from AD lose their ability to remember things, behave normally or even understand verbal communications. Support and care from family and loved ones can help them live a better, if not an absolutely normal life. The caregivers must therefore educate themselves about the disease, its symptoms, available management options, and caregiving strategies.