Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that accounts for most of the cases of dementia in individuals over 45 years of age. Around 15% of the cases are familial indicating the role of genetic factors. The disease occurs when brain cells start degrading unwanted proteins which then accumulate in the brain, causing toxicity. Abnormalities in neurotransmitters have also been thought to play a role.
Patients usually consult their physicians with complaints of both short-term and long-term memory loss. Aphasia (speech impairment), apraxia (inability to perform learned movements), and visuospatial impairments are characteristic of the disease in later stages. Depression and occasional aggression have also been observed in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Although there is no known treatment for this disease, some anticholinesterase drugs (that prevent degradation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine) such as donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine have shown some beneficial effects. Memantine, an NMDA receptor antagonist, has also proven to be of benefit. The disease is mainly managed with the provision of support from the caregivers and an environment familiar to the patient. Antidepressant medication is given as needed.