The risk of Alzheimer's increases as we grow older.

The elderly have a greater risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease.

The elderly have a greater risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease always begins slowly and grows in intensity with increasing age, especially above the age of 80. Often, the initial lapses in memory, and problems with orientation and speech, or not taken so seriously or are glossed over. When the symptoms occur more often, those affected initially attempt – often because they are afraid or ashamed – to conceal their inadequacies from their family or employer for as long as possible. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, we often find, on looking back, that the initial signs had appeared months or even years before. The diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can certainly be a shock to the family – but the family can adjust and organise therapy for their loved one.


Alzheimer's disease. Information from A-Z

Information. What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia.

In 1906, this "extraordinary disease of the cerebral cortex" was introduced for the very first time at a neurology congress in Tübingen by Frankfurt psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer. His later Munich superior coined the term Alzheimer's disease, a name which has since become commonplace in medical circles. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. This generic term for the loss of mental abilities refers to the loss of memory in addition to other functions such as thinking, orientation, learning, speech and the ability to make decisions on varied, individual levels. It is presumed that in Germany there are more than one million sufferers of dementia, and worldwide the figure is estimated at 25 million. Every year, just over 200,000 people fall prey to the condition, with women affected more often due to their higher life expectancy. Around two thirds of these sufferers contract Alzheimer's.


Protein deposits in the brain damage the brain cells.

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative condition. It entails disruptions to the memory, orientation and the ability to think and make judgements. Such shortcomings continually worsen, which is why a follow-up examination should be held after at least six months. After the death of a deranged female patient, the neurologist Alois Alzheimer discovered that some areas of her brain contained clumped deposits of particular proteins. These pathological changes in the brain cause a variety of brain disorders: protein plaques hinder the conduction and processing of information between the nerve cells (neurons), thus damaging and destroying viable cells.


Symptoms. Signs of Alzheimer's

Symptoms of early stage Alzheimer's.

Impaired retention and memory are the first signs of Alzheimer's.

Impaired retention and memory are the first signs of Alzheimer's.

Typical warning signs for early stage Alzheimer's disease are, to begin with, impaired retention and memory as well as difficulties finding words and names. These symptoms develop gradually. Alzheimer sufferers begin to make mistakes because they can no longer remember arrangements they have made. They are no longer capable of following intricate conversations and have difficulty planning their daily routine and activities. This results in frustration, and in turn to irritability and depression. On top of this, those affected initially refuse to acknowledge their illness or downplay their inadequacies. If relatives make any mention of the matter, they react with annoyance or become aggressive. Weight loss, for no obvious reason, may also be indicative of Alzheimer's in the elderly.


Symptoms of moderate stage Alzheimer's.

In the moderate stage, the ability to recall events which happened a long time ago is ultimately also lost. Disorientation also affects biographical details. Furthermore, the ability to control one's movement and coordination is greatly impaired: simple activities such as buttoning a shirt or operating the television become increasingly difficult. In addition, spatial orientation is gradually diminished. Due to a lack of orientation, anxiety and uncertainty rapidly take over. Items are left in unusual places and then cannot be immediately retrieved, e.g. placing keys in the refrigerator. Patients become increasingly reliant on help in order to cope with their everyday lives.


Symptoms of late stage Alzheimer's.

Patients with late stage Alzheimer's experience serious lapses in memory and often can express only very few words. Control is lost over the bladder and bowels, as well as physical posture. Sufferers are also unable to walk by themselves and become bed-ridden – help and care at home from the patient's relatives becomes imperative.


Causes. What causes the Alzheimer's disease?

The cause of Alzheimer's is not yet clear.

A specific gene may increase the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer's disease.

A specific gene may increase the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer's disease.

The reason why the brain cells perish could not yet be explained scientifically. There is much to suggest that a whole variety of genetic and environmental risk factors are involved. Genetic factors are believed to represent 80 percent of the risk of contracting Alzheimer's. To date, one gene in particular has been found to play a significant role in the development of the disease: apolipoprotein E, discovered over 20 years ago. Its variant, ApoE 4, leads to a two to four-fold increase in the probability of the disease.


Certain messengers are involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Certain neurotransmitters in the brain may be involved in the development of Alzheimer's.

Certain neurotransmitters in the brain may be involved in the development of Alzheimer's.

Certain messengers (neurotransmitters) are basically involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances formed by the nerve cells which are used to reciprocally transmit information. Particularly important neurotransmitters are glutamate, which supports learning, and acetylcholine, which helps the memory to function correctly. Glutamate ensures that calcium flows into the nerve cells so that the signal within the cell can be transmitted. In the brain of an Alzheimer sufferer, the concentration of glutamate is unnaturally high. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is equally involved in learning processes. Alzheimer's involves a deficiency of acetylcholine, which disrupts the transmission of impulses between the nerve cells of the memory system.