What is Alzheimer’s disease?
The name ‘Alzheimer’ originates from the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Dr Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer, who is credited with identifying the first published case of ‘presenile dementia’ – which was identified as Alzheimer’s disease in 1906.
Alzheimer’s disease has been the most common cause of dementia for over 40 years. There are more than half a million people in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease causes proteins to build up in the brain to form structures called ‘Amyloid plaques’ and ‘Tau tangles’. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.
People with Alzheimer’s also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemical messengers help to transmit signals around the brain. When there is a shortage of them, the signals are not transmitted as effectively.
For most people, the earliest symptoms of the disease are memory lapses. Things like forgetting appointments or anniversaries, misplacing keys and glasses etc. or struggling to find the right word in a conversation. Someone with Alzheimer’s will also have or go on to develop problems with other aspects of thinking, reasoning, perception or communication.
What is dementia?
It’s a common misconception that Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same thing. In fact, dementia occurs when the brain is damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes.
Dementia is one of the main causes of disability later in life, ahead of cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Common types of dementia include vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy Bodies, which shares symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Less common types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND).
Dementia is a terminal condition and symptoms include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding. There are currently around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia. It mainly affects people over the age of 65 (one in 14 people in this age group have dementia), and the likelihood of developing dementia increases significantly with age. However, dementia can affect younger people too. There are more than 42,000 people in the UK under 65 with dementia.
Mild cognitive impairment
Some people have problems with their memory or thinking but these are not bad enough to affect their everyday life. In this case, a doctor may diagnose them with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This is not a type of dementia, but research shows that people with MCI have an increased risk of going on to develop dementia.
Alzheimer’s research continues to expand and our knowledge of the role of genetic factors in the disease is now much better. Awareness and understanding about both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia still remains relatively low which sadly means too many people and their families are suffering in silence. The Glasgow Memory Clinic have a range of studies running at the clinic suitable for those with varying degrees of Memory Impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
If you have any concerns about your own memory or that of a loved one, think about taking part in research and contact us. A question worth asking is: ‘Is it better to do something rather than nothing’? Our experience is that taking part in research is a positive thing to do.Posted 15th May 2017