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Alzheimer’s is a mental condition that slowly diminishes an individual’s memory, appearing first as a benign difficulty in remembering, and deteriorating over time into extreme confusion, disorientation, mood swings, anger, difficulty in communication and total inability to recognize familiar people, situations and simple facts like that date, or the sufferer’s own name. In cellular terms, Alzheimer’s causes brain tissue to break down over time. It usually appears in people over the age of 65 and usually affects a person for the rest of his or her life. It affects more women than men.

While Alzheimer’s affects older people, it is not part of the natural process of aging, which involves some memory loss. Medical experts are not sure why the condition affects some and not others, but have discovered that it results form specific types of nerve damage in the brain (neurofibrillary tangles, beta-amyloid plaque buildup). Researchers aren’t sure what causes this damage, but have linked it to the body’s levels of a certain protein, called ApoE (apolipoprotein E), used to move cholesterol in the blood.

Theories also point to people with head injuries, high blood pressure and cholesterol having higher risks of developing Alzheimer’s. The biggest indication of risk is by far the instance of Alzheimer’s in one’s family members.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s creep up slowly and appear as normal forgetfulness or trouble communicating. With time, the symptoms can get more severe and more frequent.

Alzheimer’s has been practically divided into phases: mild, moderate and severe.

Mild Alzheimer’s usually lasts for 2-4 years and is characterized by reduced energy, loss of recent memory, language problems, depression and slight coordination problems.

Moderate Alzheimer’s, which can last for 2-10 years, includes a worsening of recall ability as well as incoherent speech, severe communication issues, mood swings, anger, trouble getting dressed, sleeping problems, wandering, delusions, and more. People suffering from moderate Alzheimer’s are often aware of the change in their brain, making them more depressed and frustrated.

Severe Alzheimer’s lasts from 1-3 years and includes total confusions about the present and past, lack of communication, problems swallowing and eating, extreme mood wings, illogical anger and lack of mobility.

What are the Treatments?

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. People with the disease will inevitably lose memory and the ability to function. Researchers are still trying to uncover the mystery of why and how this happens. Treatments available today can help manage the symptoms, allowing sufferers to live a more “normal” life for longer. Because a patient’s symptoms can change over time, treatments are often adjusted appropriately.

Several medications exist to treat the memory loss, behavior changes and sleep problems associated with Alzheimer’s. These include antidepressants like Celexa, Prozac and Zoloft as well as Anxiolytics medicines like Lorazepam (Ativan) and Oxazepam for treating anxiety and restlessness.

In addition, antipsychotic medications can treat hallucinations, delusions and uncontrolled aggression.

Natural remedies

There is no truly effective natural treatment for the severe dementia associated with Alzheimer’s. However, it has been suggested that vitamin E, an antioxidant, might be able to protect nerve cells from damage. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for post-menopausal women has also been theorized as lessening a woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. There is some evidence that sufferer’s of Alzheimer’s can experience better moods, behavior and functionality when exposed to sensory therapies like art or music therapy. Adding certain supplements to one’s diet, including coenzyme Q10, coral calcium, huperzine A, and omega-3 fatty acids have been suggested as helpful, but none of these approaches have been proven to be an effective method of prevention or treatment of Alzheimer’s.

Do you have questions about Alzheimer’s? Can you recommend treatments that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below…

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