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Alzheimer's Disease - Anxiety Like Medical Condition

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Updated: April 2, 2019

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a degenerative and progressive brain disease that results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly and affects at least three to four million people in the United States.

People with AD experience gradual memory loss as well as impaired judgement, difficulty concentrating, loss of language skills, personality changes, and a decline in the ability to learn new tasks. Memory loss usually begins at about age 65 and symptoms tend to become severe within 8 to 10 years. In some cases, symptoms may appear earlier in life and advance at a faster or slower rate, but most people who develop symptoms before the age of 60 tend to have more severe forms of the disease.

Currently, there is no cure for AD, but studies suggest that medications, herbs and supplements, and lifestyle adjustments may all help to slow the progression and improve the symptoms of the disease.

Signs and Symptoms

The early symptoms of AD are occasionally overlooked because they resemble signs that many people attribute to "natural aging." The following are the most common signs and symptoms of AD.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Memory loss, including not recognizing friends and family members
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty comprehending words, completing sentences, or finding the right words
  • Loss of familiarity with surroundings, wandering aimlessly
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis
  • Aggression, agitation, anxiety, restlessness
  • Accusatory behaviors (such as accusations of spousal infidelity)
  • Withdrawal, disinterest, hostility, loss of inhibitions
  • Physical Symptoms
  • Impaired movement or coordination
  • Muscle rigidity, shuffling or dragging feet while walking
  • Insomnia or disturbances in sleep patterns
  • Weight loss
  • Incontinence
  • Muscle twitching or seizures

While many of these symptoms are similar to anxiety symptoms, a thorough medical evaluation

Diagnosis

There is no definitive test for AD, and a true diagnosis of AD can only be made after a person dies and an autopsy is performed on the brain. All individuals with AD have an accumulation of abnormal deposits (called plaque) and tangled nerve cells in their brains. The physician will try to narrow down a diagnosis, however, by eliminating the possibility of other illnesses. He or she will ask the individual (or a close family member) to describe the primary symptoms, and how long they have been noticeable.

The following tests may also be used to aid in the diagnosis.

  • Psychological tests—assess the individual's memory and attention span. They may also reveal difficulties in problem-solving, social, and language skills.
  • Electroencephalograph (EEG)—traces brain-wave activity. This test sometimes reveals "slow waves" in people with AD. Although other diseases may reveal similar brain-wave activity, EEGs help distinguish a person with AD from a severely depressed person, whose brain waves are normal.
  • Imaging tests (such as CT, MRI, or PET)—computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect the presence of stroke, blood clots, and tumors (problems that cause AD-like symptoms but are not themselves related to AD). MRI, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and other advanced imaging techniques may eventually be able to diagnose AD by identifying altered blood flow patterns in the brain.
  • Blood test for Apo E4—although the presence of Apo E4 gene in the blood may suggest AD, it does not always make an accurate diagnosis.
Return to Anxiety-like Medical Conditions

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