Alzheimer's disease symptoms include both genetic and environmental factors


Alzheimer's disease symptoms (AD), come from one form of dementia and result from a progressive, degenerative brain disease. It impairs memory, thinking and behavior.

Memory impairment is a necessary feature for the diagnosis of this or any type of dementia. Change in one of the following areas must also be present: language, decision-making ability, judgment, attention, and other areas of mental function and personality.

The rate of progression is different for each person. If alzheimer's disease symptoms develop rapidly, it is likely to continue to progress rapidly. If it has been slow to progress, it will likely continue on a slow course.

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As many as 4 million Americans currently have alzheimer's disease symptoms. The older you get, the greater your risk of developing AD, although it is not a part of normal aging. Family history is another common risk factor.

In addition to age and family history, risk factors for AD may include:

  • Longstanding high blood pressure
  • History of head trauma
  • High levels of homocysteine (a body chemical that contributes to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, depression, and possibly AD)
  • Female gender -- because women usually live longer than men, they are more likely to develop AD

There are two types of AD -- early onset and late onset. In early onset, alzheimer's disease symptoms first appear before age 60. Early onset AD is much less common, accounting for only 5-10% of cases. However, it tends to progress rapidly.

The cause of AD is not entirely known but is thought to include both genetic and environmental factors. A diagnosis of AD is made based on characteristic symptoms and by excluding other causes of dementia.

Prior theories regarding the accumulation of aluminum, lead, mercury, and other substances in the brain leading to AD have been disproved. The only way to know for certain that someone had AD is by microscopic examination of a sample of brain tissue after death.

The brain tissue shows "neurofibrillary tangles" (twisted fragments of protein within nerve cells that clog up the cell), "neuritic plaques" (abnormal clusters of dead and dying nerve cells, other brain cells, and protein), and "senile plaques" (areas where products of dying nerve cells have accumulated around protein). Although these changes occur to some extent in all brains with age, there are many more of them in the brains of people with AD.

The destruction of nerve cells (neurons) leads to a decrease in neurotransmitters (substances secreted by a neuron to send a message to another neuron). The correct balance of neurotransmitters is critical to the brain.

By causing both structural and chemical problems in the brain, AD appears to disconnect areas of the brain that normally work together.

About 10 percent of all people over 70 have significant memory problems and about half of those are due to AD. The number of people with alzheimer's disease symptoms doubles each decade past age 70. Having a close blood relative who developed AD increases your risk.

Early onset disease can run in families and involves autosomal dominant, inherited mutations that may be the cause of the disease. So far, three early onset genes have been identified.

Late onset of alzheimer's disease symptoms, the most common condition, develops in people 60 and older and is thought to be less likely to occur in families. Late onset AD may run in some families, but the role of genes is less direct and definitive. These genes may not cause the problem itself, but simply increase the likelihood of formation of plaques and tangles or other AD-related pathologies in the brain.

Common Alzheimer's disease symptoms

In the early stages, Alzheimer's disease symptoms may be subtle and resemble signs that people mistakenly attribute to "natural aging." They often include:

  • Repeating statements
  • Misplacing items
  • Having trouble finding names for familiar objects
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Personality changes
  • Losing interest in things previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty performing tasks that take some thought, but used to come easily, like balancing a checkbook, playing complex games (such as bridge), and learning new information or routines

In a more advanced stage, Alzheimer's disease symptoms are more obvious:

  • Forgetting details about current events
  • Forgetting events in your own life history, losing awareness of who you are
  • Problems choosing proper clothing
  • Hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and violent behavior
  • Delusions, depression, agitation
  • Difficulty performing basic tasks like preparing meals and driving

Prevention of Alzheimer's disease symptoms

Although there is no proven way to prevent AD, there are some practices that may be worth incorporating into your daily routine, particularly if you have a family history of dementia. Talk to your doctor about any of these approaches, especially those that involve taking a medication or a health supplement.

  • Consume a low-fat diet.
  • Eat cold-water fish (like tuna, salmon, and mackerel) rich in omega-3 fatty acids, at least 2 to 3 times per week.
  • Reduce your intake of linoleic acid found in margarine, butter, and dairy products.
  • Increase antioxidants like carotenoids, vitamin E, and vitamin C by eating plenty of darkly colored fruits and vegetables.
  • Maintain a normal blood pressure.
  • Stay mentally and socially active throughout your life.


Our personal approach to prevent Alzheimer's disease symptoms


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