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Symptoms and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease

Knowing about the symptoms of Alzheimer's help in the early diagnosis and better quality of life.

Written by Pavitra Sampath |Updated : September 21, 2015 8:56 AM IST

September 21stis World Alzheimer's Day

Most people have heard of Alzheimer's and how it can affect a person's life. While there are some glaring signs and symptoms that might indicate the presence of the disease, the proper, clinical diagnosis of the condition is necessary for proper care. We spoke to Dr Manoj Khannal, Consultant- Neurology at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh about the diagnosis of Alzheimer's, how a patient can be rehabilitated and what a patient's family members should know about the disease. Here are excerpts from the interview.

What are the noticeable symptoms of the condition apart from forgetting things?

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Apart from forgetting things, patient have several other symptoms like apathy that remains the most persistent neuropsychiatric symptom throughout the course of the disease. Depressive symptoms, irritability and reduced awareness of subtle memory difficulties also occur commonly. Perception (agnosia), or execution of movements (apraxia), language problems like vocabulary can be affected, whereas wandering, irritability, delusions, hallucinations, urinary incontinence are other common symptoms. Here are 10 early symptoms of Alzheimer s disease you should be aware of.

How is Alzheimer's diagnosed?

Alzheimer's disease is usually diagnosed based on the person's history, history from relatives, and observations of the person's behaviour. The presence of characteristic neurological features and the absence of alternative conditions are supportive. Neuroimaging techniques like MRI brain, PET scan, SPECT scan help exclude alternative causes. Certain tools like MMSE (mini mental state examination) helps clinicians to assess the levels of dementia in such cases. Read more about the diagnosis of Alzheimer s disease.

How can a caretaker help a patient with such condition?

The role of family caregivers has also become more prominent, as care in the familiar surroundings of home may delay onset of some symptoms and postpone or eliminate the need for more professional and costly levels of care. Home-based care may entail tremendous economic, emotional costs as well. Family caregivers often give up time from work and forego pay in order to spend an average of 47 hours per week with an affected loved one, who frequently cannot be left alone. In a survey of patients with long term care insurance, the direct and indirect costs of caring for an Alzheimer's disease patient averaged $77,500 per year in the United States. Caregivers are themselves subject to increased incidence of depression, anxiety, and in some cases physical health issues. Taking care of an Alzheimer s patient is not an easy task, here is a caregiver s survival guide that might help you.

Can it be managed at home?

Since Alzheimer's has no cure and it gradually renders people incapable of tending for their own needs, care giving essentially is the treatment and must be carefully managed over the course of the disease. During the early and moderate stages, modifications to the living environment and lifestyle can increase patient safety and reduce caretaker burden.

Examples of such modifications are the adherence to simplified routines, the placing of safety locks, the labeling of household items to cue the person with the disease or the use of modified daily life objects. Patients may also become incapable of feeding themselves, so they require food in smaller pieces or pureed. When swallowing difficulties arise, the use of feeding tubes may be required. In such cases, the medical efficacy and ethics of continuing feeding is an important consideration of the caregivers and family members. The use of physical restraints is rarely indicated in any stage of the disease, although there are situations when they are necessary to prevent harm to the person with AD or their caregivers. Did you know these 5 surprising things that can predict Alzheimer s risk early?

As the disease progresses, different medical issues can appear, such as oral and dental disease, pressure ulcers, malnutrition, hygiene problems, or respiratory, skin, or eye infections. Careful management can prevent them, while professional treatment is needed when they do arise. During the final stages of the disease, treatment is centered on relieving discomfort until death. A small recent study in the US concluded that people whose caregivers had a realistic understanding of the prognosis and clinical complications of late dementia were less likely to receive aggressive treatment near the end of life.

Image source: Shutterstock

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