​Alzheimer’s Disease​

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia (that is, a group of diseases associated with loss of memory and intellectual abilities). It is a progressive disease, meaning that symptoms start out slowly and eventually get worse. 

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, although in some cases is believed to be genetic. The brain cells degenerate and die, leading to decline in mental functions and memory loss. 

The disease is divided into four stages, which are as follows:

  • Pre-dementia: This is the stage before the disease actually sets in. It includes short term memory loss, and is often mistaken as a normal sign of ageing. 

  • Early stages: During this stage, a definite diagnosis of dementia is made. Older memories are retained but you will have difficulty forming and retaining new ones. 

  • Moderate: During this stage, the disease has progressed beyond the early stages and it will start to affect your life in many ways. Loss of motor functions will hinder movement, and you will face speech difficulties, memory problems, and ability to read and write.

  • Advanced: This is the final stage of the disease, leading to imminent death. Although Alzheimer’s is not the cause of death, a related condition such as infection or pneumonia will worsen your physical condition. At this stage, you will be entirely dependent on caregivers.  ​

The symptoms of Alzheimer's vary with the stage of the disease. At first, the only symptom may be forgetfulness, which many people believe to be a normal part of ageing. However, as the disease advances, you may start to repeat statements and questions, not realizing that you've asked the question before. Another sign is forgetting conversations or entire events. You may start misplacing your possessions and forgetting names of family members, friends and everyday objects.

You may also start to lose sense of time and days, as well as your surroundings. You may get lost frequently and forget your way home. You may also lose the ability to read and write, have trouble finding the right words and have difficulty in expressing yourself. Thinking and reasoning abilities are also affected, as well as decision making and judgments. Familiar tasks and activities, such as dressing and bathing may become troublesome, leaving you entirely dependent on a caregiver. Alzheimer's disease also causes changes in personality and leads to depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, mood swings, aggressiveness, distrust and illusions. These symptoms develop over time.

If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, you may still retain the ability to enjoy certain activities until the disease has progressed to a much later stage.​

If you or a loved one is facing memory loss or other related symptoms, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor immediately. You can obtain additional information and expert medical advice from the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

There is no specific test that confirms a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. It is based on a judgment by your doctor about what is the most likely cause of your symptoms. A general diagnosis of dementia is easy to accomplish, but specifying that the dementia is due to Alzheimer’s is more difficult. 

At first, your doctor will conduct a physical and neurological exam to test your:

  • Reflexes

  • Muscle tone and strength

  • Ability to get up from a chair and walk across the room

  • Sense of sight and hearing

  • Coordination

  • Balance

Your doctor will also conduct a series of lab tests to rule out other potential causes of memory loss and confusion, such as thyroid disorders or vitamin deficiencies. 

He/she may also conduct neuropsychological tests to check your mental status, memory and reasoning skills. These tests will help to identify your ability to manage everyday activities, such as self-care, managing your finances and decision making.

A number of brain scans may be conducted to get an image of your brain and check for abnormalities. These will include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan: In this test, a machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of your brain. 

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) scan: This is an imaging method that creates a two-dimensional image of the brain using X-ray technology.

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET): During a PET scan, you will be injected with a radioactive tracer. You will be required lie on a table while an overhead scanner tracks the flow of this substance through your brain.​

There is no cure for Alzheimer's but with the right medication and lifestyle, symptoms can be managed for a time.

Certain drugs such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine can help to keep symptoms from worsening, or in a few cases, show some slight improvement as well. Other drugs for treatment of behavioural and mood disorders (such as depression and insomnia) may also be prescribed. Some drugs, however, have side effects such as nausea, constipation and disturbed sleep.

While drugs may be beneficial to a certain extent, the most important factor is to create a safe environment. Try to stick to a routine that doesn't vary too much. Schedule regular appointments with your doctor and exercise regularly, as it helps to promote more peaceful sleep, maintain physical health and improve your mood. Healthy, nutritious meals are also important, as is keeping hydrated.  ​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider. ​​