Symptoms and Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 11/23/2021

Doctor's Notes on Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, a brain disorder that interferes with a person's ability to carry out everyday activities. The brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease has abnormal areas containing clumps (senile plaques) and bundles (neurofibrillary tangles) of abnormal proteins that destroy connections between brain cells, which affects the parts of the brain that control cognitive functions such as thought, memory, and language.

Initial symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include

  • mild, slowly worsening memory loss and memory problems such as difficulty recognizing familiar people or things, trouble remembering recent events or activities,
  • inability to solve simple math problems, problems finding the right word, and
  • difficulty performing familiar tasks.

As the disease progresses, symptoms become more serious and may include

  • an inability to carry out everyday activities, inability to think clearly or solve problems,
  • difficulties understanding or learning new information,
  • problems with communication,
  • increasing disorientation and confusion, and
  • greater risk of falls and accidents due to poor judgment and confusion.

In the later stages of Alzheimer's, symptoms can be debilitating and include complete loss of short- and long-term memory, dependence on others for activities of daily living, severe disorientation, behavior or personality changes, loss of mobility, and impairment of other movements such as swallowing.

What Is the Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease?

There is no single treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and the condition currently cannot be cured. Treatments are used to reduce the symptoms of the disease, especially to modify deteriorating behaviors. Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease consists of medications and behavioral modifications and may include:

  • Medications 
    • To help maintain mental function in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease 
    • To help maintain mental function in moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease 
      • Memantine (Namenda)
      • Rivastigmine (Exelon patch)
      • Memantine and donepezil (Namzaric) 
  • To manage depression
  • To manage aggression
    • Determine what triggers the aggression and try to limit exposures
    • Family members can learn strategies to help lessen triggers and avoid confrontations
    • It may be treated with therapy or medication, depending on the cause 
  • To manage sleep problems
    • It may be treated with medications
    • Behavior changes such as limiting daytime naps, increasing physical activity, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening, maintaining daily rhythms, using artificial lighting when needed during the day, and avoiding bright light exposures during the night to help maintain normal wake-sleep cycles
  • To manage safety issues, because people with Alzheimer’s disease often fall and hurt themselves
    • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes
    • Secure loose rugs or use non-skid backing on rugs
    • Hide loose wires or electrical cords
    • Maintain well-lit walkways

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REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.