What are the early symptoms of dementia?
Every person is unique and dementia affects people differently – no two people will have symptoms that develop in exactly the same way. An individual’s personality, general health and social situation are all important factors in determining the impact of dementia on him or her.
If a parent has Alzheimer’s disease, will I get it?
There are a few very rare cases where Alzheimer’s disease does run in families. In these cases there is a direct link between an inherited mutation in one gene and the onset of the disease. These tend to be cases of ‘early onset’ Alzheimer’s disease, which affects those under the age of 65. In these cases, the probability that close family members (brothers, sisters and children) will develop Alzheimer’s disease is one in two.
Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease are not of the type that is passed on directly in this way. If a family member has a normal form of Alzheimer’s disease, the risk to close relatives is around three times higher than the risk for a person of a similar age who has no family history of the disease. It is thought that in these cases a person’s genes may contribute to the development of the disease but do not cause it directly.
Is there a cure?
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or for most other causes of dementia. Nor can a cure be expected in the near future. Researchers are still at the stage of developing drugs that will slow down the progression of the disease, at least in some cases. They still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression, or how to reverse its effects. It is hoped that more research into the causes of dementia will make a cure possible.
Are there any drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?
Although there are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of drug treatments that can help some people with Alzheimer’s disease. The currently available treatments can slow down the progression of the disease in some cases for periods between 6 and 18 months. The main class of such compounds is the cholinesterase inhibitors. Other kinds of drugs are occasionally useful for controlling some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as sleeplessness and agitation. In general, however, the use of drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquillizers should be kept to a minimum if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, as they can cause increased confusion.
Non-drug treatments, including practical and emotional support, are important and effective in helping people with dementia and carers.
Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?
Not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease for any specific preventative measures to be recommended. Although Alzheimer’s disease is more common with increasing age, the trigger for the characteristic changes that occur in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s disease is not known. Genes are thought to play a part in the development of most cases of Alzheimer’s disease. In rare cases, abnormal genes actually cause the disease. Much more commonly, genes are believed only to contribute to a person’s susceptibility to the disease. It seems that, at least in some cases, factors in the environment may be necessary to trigger the illness.
Although there are no specific preventative measures to recommend, what can be recommended is a healthy lifestyle – eating a healthy diet and staying physically, mentally and socially active. There is increasing research evidence to suggest that having a healthy lifestyle helps to reduce an individual’s risk.
What are the risk factors?
Age and a strong family history of dementia are risk factors with a strong link to dementia. Excessive alcohol consumption, head injury, and risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and being overweight also seem to increase the risk of getting dementia.
It seems that people who keep their brains active may be at less risk of developing dementia. Reading, engaging in a hobby such as playing bridge or chess, or doing crosswords and word puzzles may help to reduce risk.