Alzheimer’s Disease: Stages, Symptoms, and Prevention

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to atrophy and brain cells to wither away. Alzheimer’s disease is often also called dementia, when it actually is just the most common cause of dementia. Dementia — a state of continuous decline in cognition, memory, and behavioral and social skills — eventually leads to a complete loss of independence in the affected person. Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease can help you slow the ascent into dementia, and in some cases (especially when detected early), also completely reverse the memory loss. This makes it imperative that individuals and doctors stay alert to the early symptoms of this disorder. Here’s a closer look at what exactly Alzheimer’s disease is, the various stages, early and later symptoms, and treatment and prevention.  

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

When it comes to your or your loved ones’ health, you can never be too proactive. Especially with disorders such as Alzheimer’s, understanding Alzheimer’s disease and its early symptoms, and knowing what the stages of the disease are, can go a long way in helping you prevent it, reverse it, or slow it down. 

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease. It usually starts slowly and later progressively worsens. Abnormal structures in the brain, including plaques (deposits of beta-amyloid protein fragments in the brain) and tangles (twisted fibers of the tau protein), are usually implicated in damaging and killing nerve and brain cells. All ageing brains have these structures, but they develop much faster and more densely in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Early symptoms of the disease include a growing inability to recall recent events. As the disease worsens, behavioral decline follows the memory loss, with eventually the affected individual needing round-the-clock care and attention. 

What Are the Symptoms and Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease develop in stages.

Preclinical Stage

In this stage, the brain starts showing changes and signs of the disease. But outwardly, the affected person shows few to no signs, so detection is hard unless you opt for PET brain scans. This stage of seeming normalcy can last for years.  

Mild or Early Stage

Here, the individual often shows symptoms such as mild forgetfulness. It can be mistaken for normal ageing. Patients can often find it harder to focus on an activity. Memory lapses may include not being able to recall names, recent events, where you’ve kept objects, etc. 

Moderate or Middle Stage

This interim stage is usually the longest-lasting stage. During this stage, memory and cognitive functions show an unmistakable but moderate decline. This can include not remembering your own name, problems with learning new things, and trouble with reading and writing. This can later evolve to losing track of time or place, wandering, and forgetting the name of the spouse or children. 

Severe Stage

By this stage, the affected individual loses the ability to have a longer conversation beyond a few words, and the ability to walk, sit, and eat. The patient also loses bowel and bladder control and needs constant care.

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosis involves memory tests, going over the health history of the patient, and brain scans such as PET, CT, or MRI scans. There are also blood tests that look for the presence of specific [proteins in the blood in response to the progression of brain decline due to the disorder. While there isn’t a direct treatment or cure for the disease, there are several medications that can help with symptoms such as memory loss, depression, sleeplessness, and cognitive issues.

How Can You Prevent or Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease?

Maintaining an active lifestyle and consuming a healthy, balanced diet can go a long way in protecting your brain and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing blood sugar levels by following a low-glycemic diet and undertaking exercise can help prevent or slow down the disease. Regular mindful meditation and stress relieving measures such as breathing exercises have also been found to have neuroprotective benefits. 

While reversing moderate or later stages of the disease might not be possible, making intensive food and lifestyle changes has helped some patients reverse the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Sleep is another underrated area for prevention and reversal of early symptoms of the disease. Doctors recommend getting adequate (around eight hours) sleep to protect the brain as well as the body. Sleep allows the brain to rest and recuperate. Good quality sleep has been known to preserve brain health, memory, and cognition. Poor quality sleep, on the other hand, has been shown to lead to rapid progression of the disease.

There is a lot of research currently being undertaken to better-understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease. The future for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease looks promising. Even today, with early detection and proactive management, you can improve the prognosis of the condition.