Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease that gets worse over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer's is difficulty remembering newly learned information. Memory loss is mild in its early stages, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. On average, a person with Alzheimer's lives 4 to 8 years after diagnosis but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.
Researchers believe there isn't a single cause of Alzheimer's disease. It likely develops from multiple factors, such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Scientists have identified factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer's. While some risk factors — age, family history, and heredity — can't be changed, emerging evidence suggests there may be other factors we can influence.
Older age does not cause Alzheimer's, but it is the most important known risk factor for the disease. The number of people with Alzheimer's disease doubles about every 5 years beyond age 65. About one-third of all people age 85 and older may have Alzheimer's disease.
Family history is not necessary for an individual to develop Alzheimer's. However, research shows that those who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease than those who do not have a first-degree relative with Alzheimer's. Those who have more than one first-degree relative with Alzheimer's are at an even higher risk. Researchers have identified hereditary Alzheimer's genes in both categories of genes that influence whether a person develops a disease: (1) risk genes and (2) deterministic genes. Genetic tests are available for both APOE-e4 and the rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer's. However, health care professionals do not currently recommend routine genetic testing for Alzheimer's disease.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's can vary from one person to another. Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of the disease. Decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as finding the right word, trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may also signal the early stages of Alzheimer's. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and include increased confusion and behavior changes.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but there are treatments that may change disease progression, and drug and non-drug options that may help treat symptoms. Prescription drugs are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help manage symptoms in people with Alzheimer's, and other medications have recently emerged to treat the progression of several of the disease. Most FDA-approved drugs work best for people in the early or middle stages of Alzheimer's. There are currently no known interventions that will cure Alzheimer's. Clinical trials on Alzheimer's disease treatments are ongoing.
Lecanemab (Leqembi™) has received accelerated approval as a treatment for early Alzheimer's from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the first FDA-approved therapy to address the underlying biology of Alzheimer's disease. However, the CMS decision restricts Medicare coverage of FDA-approved drugs, including aducanumab and lecanemab, for Alzheimer's disease.
Caring for an Alzheimer's patient
Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease can be challenging. It's important to remember that the person with Alzheimer's is not acting this way on purpose. They are not being difficult or stubborn. They are simply responding to the changes taking place in their brain. It's important to be patient, flexible, and understanding. It's also important to take care of yourself and seek support from others.
In conclusion, Alzheimer's disease is a complex disease that is influenced by multiple factors, such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but there are treatments that may change disease progression, and drug and non-drug options that may help treat symptoms. Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease can be challenging, but it's important to be patient, flexible, and understanding.