Understanding Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed over 100 years ago, yet it remains one of the conditions for which modern medicine has no answer or cure. Sometimes Alzheimer’s disease is mistaken for being the same as dementia – but it is only one disease that leads to the changes known as dementia. Because our brain the centre of our function, learning, language, emotions and senses, changes as a result of Alzheimer’s disease eventually affects every function of the brain.

There are over 320,000 persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, more than the number of Australians developing skin cancer. The greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is ageing. The one thing we have no control over. Very rarely, familial Alzheimer’s can occur, but most people develop the disease randomly.

The early stage of Alzheimer’s disease is associated with very subtle changes, lapses in memory and forgetting the names of everyday objects – often similar to senior moments. However more significant changes occur over time affecting all functions of the brain. This may happen quickly (3 years) or over 20 years. The disease will lead to the person becoming completely dependent until the brain can no longer keep the body functioning.

Medical scientists are identifying contributing factors every year but there is no single factor to date that we can eliminate from our lives to avoid the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  However great strides have been made in developing ways of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, the use of medications to slow the progress of the disease and most importantly, how to support persons who develop Alzheimer’s disease so that they can continue living a quality life despite the changes that are out of their control.

References: Dementia Australia; Alzheimer’s Association.