Alzheimer's disease natural history, complications and prognosis
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Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a slow-progressing condition that involves complications such as the inability to take care of oneself. If left untreated, Alzheimer's disease progresses from pre-clinical stage to advanced dementia. Common complications of Alzheimer's disease include anosmia, bedsores, psychosis, malnutrition and dehydration. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease currently and the treatment focuses on symptomatic management of the disease.
If left untreated, Alzheimer's disease (AD) may progress through three stages:
- (i) Preclinical stage:
- (II) Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) :
- MCI denotes the period during which there is observable evidence of cognitive impairment, often also reported by an informant; however, the impairment is not enough to limit daily activities
- (III) Alzheimer's disease dementia:
- The transition or prodromal stage between normal ageing and dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a heterogeneous entity.
- Advanced dementia may display the following features:
- Becoming unaware of the time and place
- Difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
- Increased need for assisted self-care
- Difficulty walking
- Behavioural changes that may escalate and include aggression
- Abuse by an over-stressed caregiver
- Bedsores, muscle contractures (loss of ability to move joints because of loss of muscle function), infection (particularly urinary tract infections and pneumonia), and other complications related to immobility during the end stages of AD
- Behavioral and psychotic symptoms of dementia (BPSD) or psychosis
- Chronic brain failure
- Falls and bone fractures
- Harmful or violent behavior toward oneself or others
- Hirano body formation
- Loss of ability to function or care for oneself
- Loss of ability to interact with others
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Individual prognosis is difficult to assess due to the variability of the duration of the disease. AD develops for an indeterminate period of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years
- The early stages of Alzheimer's disease are most difficult to diagnose. A definitive diagnosis is usually made once cognitive impairment compromises everyday activities, although the patient may still be living independently
- People with Alzheimer's disease progress from mild cognitive problems, such as memory loss, through increasing stages of cognitive and non-cognitive disturbances, eliminating any possibility of independent living
- Life expectancy of the population with the disease is reduced
- The mean life expectancy following diagnosis is approximately seven years
- Fewer than 3% of patients live more than fourteen years
- Disease features significantly associated with reduced survival are an increased severity of cognitive impairment, decreased functional level, history of falls, and disturbances in the neurological examination
- Other coincident diseases such as heart problems, diabetes, or history of alcohol abuse are also related with shortened survival
- While the earlier the age of onset the higher the total survival years, life expectancy is particularly reduced when compared to the healthy population among those who are younger
- Men have a less favorable survival prognosis than women
- Pneumonia and dehydration are the most frequent immediate causes of death, while cancer is a less frequent cause of death than in the general population.
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