Health conditions

Alzheimer’s disease

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, where symptoms may include: loss of memory, confusion and problems with speech and understanding. Up to 70 per cent of all people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.

Disease onset is usually after 65 years, but early onset Alzheimer’s disease may develop as early as 30 years of age. This younger onset dementia affects around 5 per cent of the total number of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease

While it is not known what causes Alzheimer’s disease, risk factors may include:

  • increasing age
  • a close relative with the disease
  • previous head injury
  • lack of physical activity
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • substance misuse, like alcohol.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may be very subtle in the early stages. It may begin with memory problems and as the disease progresses the symptoms become more noticeable.

Symptoms may include:

  • memory loss that affects your daily life
  • unable to find the right words in conversation
  • newly learned items are not remembered
  • hobbies and interests are no longer enjoyed
  • withdrawal from social events and activities
  • taking longer to complete routine tasks
  • unable to plan or problem solve
  • experiencing falls
  • changes in behaviour and personality.

Disease progression will vary from person to person with symptoms often fluctuating.

How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?

Although there is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to visit your doctor at an early stage if you have any concerns about symptoms.

Your doctor will also be able to assess if you have another treatable condition. The tests your doctor will run will rule out other conditions or diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

Diagnosis usually  occurs once the disease has progressed considerably and neurological damage is done.

Diagnostic tests your doctor may perform include:

  • taking a medical history
  • physical examination
  • mental health testing
  • neurological examination
  • blood tests
  • brain imaging.

Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are a number of things you can do that may be of benefit to your health and quality of life. 

There are medicines available to treat and slow the progress of dementia symptoms such as:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors
  • NMDA receptor antagonists.

Other medications can be also used to treat secondary symptoms, such as:

  • depression
  • sleep issues.

The World Health Organisation suggests that activities that improve risk factors for vascular disease, including diabetes, mid life hypertension, mid life obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity may be of benefit.

Other Beneficial activities to consider include:

  • keeping mentally and physical activity tailored to your needs
  • improving diet
  • getting involved with community support programs, for further information on Alzheimer’s Disease, counselling and supports for social activities.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.
  • Call the National Dementia Helpline (external site) on 1800 100 500.
  • For an older person with concerns about Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia related conditions you can also go to a day therapy unit memory clinic at your local hospital.

The services of a Memory Clinic can be accessed following a stay in hospital or from the community with a referral from your GP. 

The Memory Clinic aims to assist individuals and their carers to maintain their function and independence and better understand and manage their health concerns.

Memory Clinics provide access to:

      • medical assessment for clinical diagnosis and treatment plans;
      • allied health assessment and treatment, information and support; and 
      • referral linkages to community services, including Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) assessment and support as required.
  • For a younger person (generally under the age of 65) with concerns specialist diagnosis and support can also be accessed through the Neurosciences Unit of Western Australia website (external site).
  • For specialist help for people with mental health concerns or challenging behaviours associated with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia you can also access advice and support from community based mental health services (external site)

Remember

  • Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia.
  • Disease progression will vary from person to person.
  • Visit your doctor if you have any concerns about symptoms.

    This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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