Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological illness that impairs mental and thinking abilities. Alzheimer’s disease occurs in old age, but the symptoms can begin much earlier. During the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you are unable to remember recent events, recognize friends or close relatives, care for one’s own hygiene, or move independently. Alzheimer’s disease is eventually fatal, but new discoveries in Alzheimer’s disease research are promising.
Who gets Alzheimer’s disease?
Most elderly individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease are at least 60 years of age, but genetic traces of Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes evident as early as forty or fifty years of age. Alzheimer’s disease strikes men and women equally, regardless of socioeconomic status, culture, or ethnicity. About 25% of Alzheimer’s disease causes are genetic, but the 75% majority are of unknown origin.
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms
Alzheimer’s disease progresses over years, beginning with symptoms generally associated with old age and developing into debilitating mental illness.
In the early stages, somebody with Alzheimer’s disease notices difficulty remembering names or dates, and may not recall a conversation from yesterday. At this stage, he is able to care for himself, but is frequently forgetful.
Gradually, short-term memory declines, and mental problems such as paranoia, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and extreme anger begin. Symptoms may include confusion, lack of attention skills, and obliviousness to the time of day, date, or environmental factors. Social situations become stressful. Common hygiene (cleansing and wiping after using the toilet, bathing, brushing teeth) is increasingly difficult and often requires assistance. Alzheimer’s disease patient at this stage shows difficulty performing math calculations, remembering numerical codes (birthdates, phone numbers), and implementing organizational skills.
During the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the patient’s facilities have almost completely shut down. He is unable to have or understand conversations, requires assistance for mobility, cannot perform the most basic practices of hygiene, and is unaware of his surroundings.
Alzheimer’s disease research today
Alzheimer’s disease research is one of our most important scientific priorities, and discoveries in this field of research give us room for optimism. Scientists are currently testing new medications and preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease patients. One such drug is Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication that may benefit patients of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists have also noted cognitive benefits in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease patients who receive vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Much attention is devoted to the antioxidant properties of vitamin E in maintaining healthy brain mass in people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia caused by old age. Another hopeful nutrient is Huyperzine A, a sesquiterpene alkaloid of herbal origins used in Chinese medicine.
One of the most promising developments is the supplementation of vitamin B12 in treating age-related memory disorders. In several studies, scientists noted that elderly individuals in the early stages of dementia who have healthy levels of vitamin B12 have more brain mass, evident through MRI results, than their peers who suffered from vitamin B12 deficiency. They also score better in cognitive functioning tests than their counterparts who had insufficient vitamin B12 levels in the blood.
How vitamin B12 benefits Alzheimer’s disease patients
The benefits of vitamin B12 on the brain are numerous, as evidenced over the years through multiple scientific discoveries and medical practice.
- Vitamin B12 helps to maintain myelin, an essential fatty substance that coats your nerve cells, protecting them from harm and enhancing intercellular communication within the nervous system. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in impaired and destroyed nerve cells, causing symptoms like painful tingling and numbness, muscle soreness, vision problems, and spasms.
- Vitamin B12 helps your body produce healthy red blood cells for distributing oxygen throughout your body. A deficiency in vitamin B12 may result from pernicious anemia, in which your red blood cells are depleted, and loss of oxygen causes symptoms like fatigue, confusion, dizziness, and memory problems.
- Vitamin B12 helps your body produce energy. When vitamin B12 levels are low, you begin to suffer heart palpitations, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and mental exhaustion.
Treating vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly
Many factors contribute to your chances of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, and one of them is simply old age. As you get older, you lose your ability to produce digestive enzymes required for absorbing nutrients, including vitamin B12.
Also, as elderly individuals’ appetite decreases, their food consumptions goes down, another indicator for malnutrition.
Many senior citizens may not be able to stomach foods rich in vitamin B12, which include beef, chicken, seafood, cheese, and eggs.
Over years, vitamin B12 deficiency progresses until it causes debilitating symptoms. Unless treated, vitamin B12 can cause irreparable nerve damage, increased risk for heart attack and stroke, and rarely, death.
For maximum absorption, good sources of vitamin B12 for the elderly include vitamin B12 injections, sublingual vitamin B12 tablets or drops, and nonedible over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12 supplements.