Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms, Stages, Causes & Treatments

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As many as 5.5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease — most of them over the age of 65. There is no cure, but there are ways you can work to prevent, slow, or stop the cognitive decline associated with this debilitating disease.

Prevention is key when it comes to Alzheimer’s. Detecting early signs encourages early diagnosis, which allows more time to slow or stop cognitive decline. Sadly, by the time Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, it may be too late to affect meaningful change.

Experts estimate that only 1 in 4 Alzheimer’s patients is diagnosed. If you suspect you or a loved one is exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, seek diagnosis right away.

Below, you’ll learn about the symptoms, causes, risk factors, 7 stages, and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We also discuss Dr. Dale Bredesen’s novel approach to treating Alzheimer’s that has helped patients slow or stop cognitive decline 90% of the time.

Want to prevent Alzheimer’s using a plan that works… without breaking the bank? Get our guide to the Bredesen Protocol on a budget for as little as $5.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disorder that gets worse over time, named after German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer.

This brain condition affects primarily older individuals. Genetically associated early-onset Alzheimer’s disease may occur in people aged 35-65, but represents less than 5% of all people with Alzheimer’s.

In the early stages of this dementia, memory loss is mild, and a patient can still take care of themselves. In the later stages, patients may not be able to carry on a conversation or respond to their environment. 

Alzheimer’s disease is incurable. The medications primarily used to treat the condition are only about 1% effective.

Although only 25% of Alzheimer’s sufferers are actually diagnosed, Alzheimer’s patients survive an average of 4-8 years after their diagnosis.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but not the only type.

The 5 types of dementia include:

  1. Alzheimer’s disease
  2. Vascular dementia
  3. Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  4. Frontotemporal dementia
  5. Mixed dementia

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease? The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, listed loosely in the order in which they typically appear, are:

  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Trouble organizing and planning
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Decreased thinking skills
  • Problems with simple arithmetic
  • Loss of balance, depth perception
  • Poor judgment
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in personality
  • Severe memory loss
  • Propensity to wander
  • Inability to respond to stimuli

How does Alzheimer’s start? Alzheimer’s frequently starts with mild memory loss of most recent events. The early signs of Alzheimer’s are:

  • Memory problems concerning recently learned information
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Challenges in solving common problems
  • Trouble finding the right word, joining in a conversation
  • Inability to organize or plan
  • Mood changes
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

Note: Early signs of Alzheimer’s may appear up to 20 years earlier in people living with Down syndrome.

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Alzheimer’s as a Cause of Death

Does Alzheimer’s kill you? Alzheimer’s usually does not directly kill you, but rather leads to death indirectly. Common life-threatening complications of Alzheimer’s include the inability to swallow, dehydration/malnutrition, and injuries from falling.

The National Institute on Aging ranks Alzheimer’s as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. However, they also share that more recent research suggests Alzheimer’s disease is the third leading cause of death for older people, just behind heart disease and cancer.

A 2014 review estimates that, by 2050, 43% of older adults will die from Alzheimer’s and its related concerns each year.

Alzheimer’s Disease Stages

What are the 7 stages of Alzheimer’s?

  1. No Impairment — no detectable memory problems or Alzheimer’s symptoms
  2. Very Mild Decline — minor memory problems, indistinguishable from age-related memory problems
  3. Mild Decline — loved ones may start to notice symptoms; the patient may have trouble finding the right word, planning, or remembering the names of new friends
  4. Moderate Decline — symptoms of Alzheimer’s are clear; patients may have trouble solving basic math or remembering recent events, such as what they ate for breakfast
  5. Moderately Severe Decline — patients need help with everyday activities or remembering basic information about themselves, like their phone number
  6. Severe Decline — patients require constant supervision, have problems with daily activities, cannot use the restroom by themselves, and are prone to wander
  7. Very Severe Decline — patients are nearing death, unable to respond to their environment, and may forget basic functions like how to swallow food

Causes & Risk Factors

The cause of Alzheimer’s is poorly understood. According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s is likely caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

The conventional medical community is looking for a single cause for a single disease. However, other medical professionals have begun to look for multiple potential root causes for this disease.

The known causes of Alzheimer’s disease are:

  1. Buildup of amyloid protein in the brain (tau tangles)
  2. Inflammation
  3. Genetics
  4. Lifestyle factors
  5. Environmental toxins

The best-studied genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s is the gene that encodes apolipoprotein E (APOE). A mutation of this gene seems to lead to Alzheimer’s in older adults, but perhaps not in isolation.

Who does Alzheimer’s affect? Alzheimer’s affects people from all walks of life, but older individuals are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Lifetime risk factors for Alzheimer’s include:

  • Old age (above 65 years old)
  • Family history of dementia
  • History of concussion
  • African-American or Latino ethnicity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Gingivitis
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Lack of social activity
  • Chronic stress

Plaque & Tangles

Many conventional doctors look at Alzheimer’s as a disease caused by plaque and tangles. 

Ultimately, it is true that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer neurons in their brain tissue than a healthy brain. This is due to plaque and tangles.

Tangles, twisted strands of tau proteins, collect within nerve cells in certain parts of the brain, triggering cell death.

These tangles may also be called:

  • Neurofibrillary tangles
  • Tau tangles
  • Abnormal tau protein
  • Tombstone tangle

Plaque builds up between nerve cells in older people’s brains, triggering cell death. This plaque is made up of abnormal protein fragments, unlike dental plaque or arterial plaque.

This plaque may also be called:

  • Amyloid plaque
  • Amyloid-beta
  • Beta-amyloid
  • Neuritic plaque
  • Senile plaque

Plaque and angles contribute to cognitive decline as nerve cells in your brain are killed. However, these are simply a result of the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s — not the true cause of the disease.

Fortunately, Dr. Dale Bredesen has championed landmark research into identifying and treating the root causes of Alzheimer’s to slow or stop the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients.

Bredesen’s 6 Subcategories of Alzheimer’s

Dr. Dale Bredesen is an internationally recognized expert in Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, many conventional doctors still do not know about his landmark Alzheimer’s research.

He spent decades in a lab, trying to find the drug that would cure Alzheimer’s. What he found was the underlying reason that beta-amyloid protein built up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Through his research, he discovered 36 lifestyle factors that contributed to beta-amyloid buildup. He grouped these 36 risk factors into 6 subcategories:

  1. Inflammatory (hot) — This subcategory is probably the easiest to understand. Chronic inflammation may be the root cause of a patient’s Alzheimer’s disease. If a qualified health professional identifies your Alzheimer’s as inflammatory, he/she might determine the cause of your inflammation and treat that underlying cause.
  2. Atrophic (cold) — This subcategory is triggered by reductions in nutrients, hormones, and trophic support (for example, estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, vitamin D, pregnenolone, thyroid, etc.). This seems to affect slightly older individuals than other subcategories.
  3. Glycotoxic (sweet) — This subcategory combines elements from “Inflammatory” and “Atrophic”. Patients with Glycotoxic Alzheimer’s exhibit inflammation and reductions in trophic support. Most, if not all, patients’ brain cells are insulin resistant, hence the prefix “glyco-”.
  4. Toxic (vile) — This subcategory is triggered by conditions such as depression, stress, and toxin exposure. Toxins may include mercury, mycotoxins, and MARCoNS. Surprisingly, these patients do not usually have allergic symptoms. This subcategory seems to affect younger individuals. It is the most difficult subcategory to treat.
  5. Vascular (pale) — This subcategory is triggered by poor vascular circulation and/or heart disease. Treatment of this subcategory may involve improving your heart health.
  6. Traumatic (dazed) — This subcategory occurs due to a traumatic head injury, typically multiple head injuries. The most common head traumas are from car accidents, falling, or contact sports.

These explanations are very simplified for easier reading, but there’s a surprising amount of research to back up Dr. Bredesen’s 6 subcategories. 

Interestingly, these categories align with Ayurvedic approaches to defining the root of disease (the words in parentheses above).

Dr. Bredesen has published some ground-breaking Alzheimer’s research in the past few years.

In his first study of this approach, 9 out of 10 Alzheimer’s patients showed improvement. A subsequent study observing 100 patients also showed similar improvement.

According to Dr. Bredesen’s 2016 paper published in Aging, 10% of Alzheimer’s patients he examines suffer from mold toxicity. PrimeHealth has found some amount of mold toxicity is present in the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients we see.

Initially, Dr. Bredesen and his associates were not aware of how widespread the association was between Alzheimer’s and mold toxicity. Today, he estimates that 60-70% of patients with cognitive decline may have some level of mold toxicity, and my experience has been consistent with that estimate.

In Dr. Bredesen’s experience, most Alzheimer’s patients don’t just exhibit 1 of the 36 lifestyle factors discussed above. Most present with 20+ lifestyle factors — suggesting that Alzheimer’s is not a disease with 1 cause that can be addressed with 1 therapeutic intervention.

It’s like a roof leaking. If you have 1 hole in the roof, it’s not good. But 20+ holes in the roof mean you’re going to have a big problem.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed? Alzheimer’s can only be definitively diagnosed after death by examining brain tissues in an autopsy. 

However, most doctors will use a symptom checklist and, in some cases, biomarkers (such as beta-amyloid or tau levels in cerebrospinal fluid) to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is not as clear-cut as many other diseases. Examining beta-amyloid or tau levels in cerebrospinal fluid is still being researched as a viable diagnostic tool, but it’s not widely used yet.

A doctor may use computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) to rule out other health problems that may better explain your symptoms.

The primary method of diagnosing Alzheimer’s is identifying cognitive decline and all its associated symptoms.

Even an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s may not increase the quality of life in patients and caregivers once the disease has taken hold. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s in its early stages means looking for early signs in you or your loved ones, then calling your doctor at the first symptoms.

Performing early screening and working with a doctor trained in a functional, lifestyle-based approach at the first sign of subtle cognitive changes is the best way to drastically increase the quality of life and may even slow or stop the spread of cognitive decline.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s

Conventional treatment for Alzheimer’s usually involves pharmaceutical drugs with adverse side effects that try to improve memory without addressing the root cause.

The 2 primary Alzheimer’s medications include:

  1. Cholinesterase inhibitors
  2. Memantine

There is no conventional treatment for Alzheimer’s that is effective in stopping, slowing, or reversing cognitive decline.

Some FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments may actually worsen the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients, according to a recent meta-analysis.

The hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates in your brain. In a healthy brain, this protein is meant to protect the brain from outside invaders, such as infection. In a brain with Alzheimer’s, that beta-amyloid buildup triggers the nerve cells in your brain to stop talking to each other.

This creates inflammation in your brain, eventually killing the nerve cells in your brain. The size of your brain shrinks, especially the area where your memories are stored.

Most conventional treatments for Alzheimer’s disease target beta-amyloid buildup. 

Unfortunately, this means that the natural presence of beta-amyloid (which would normally offer some immunity against infection or other insults) is no longer there. This may be one reason why Alzheimer’s medications may actually worsen the disease in some cases.

Even if these treatments have a 1% effective rate, at best, at slowing or stopping Alzheimer’s, families are happy to take even that chance. Even another few weeks with their family members can mean the world.

The Bredesen Seven

Earlier, we discussed Dr. Bredesens’ 6 subcategories of Alzheimer’s, which described the underlying cause of different forms of Alzheimer’s. Now, let’s talk about Dr. Bredesen’s treatment and prevention methods.

A qualified healthcare professional can identify which subcategory of lifestyle factors best applies to you, which allows him or her to develop a lifestyle program to address those underlying factors.

Lifestyle changes needed to improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients are grouped into 7 categories, called the Bredesen Seven:

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Sleep
  4. Stress
  5. Toxins
  6. Dietary supplements
  7. Brain stimulation

Dr. Bredesen clarifies that “this is not a cure for Alzheimer’s.” At best, it’s an effective form of prevention that may improve cognitive function (at least a little bit) in a majority of patients.

In Dr. Bredesen’s experience since he starting this approach, over 90% of his patients have seen cognitive decline slow or stop.

Diet is important for your overall health, including your brain health. Dr. Bredesen developed a “keto flex” diet that maximizes your brain’s ability to use fat as fuel, instead of sugars/carbs. 

This is critical, since research shows most Alzheimer’s patients lose the ability to burn sugar in their brain. That’s why some call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes”. And remember, fat is a cleaner, more efficient fuel for your brain than carbs.

Exercise is vital for every human’s long-term health. Lack of exercise contributes to chronic stress, among other issues. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is believed to be the most effective exercise method to support brain health.

Sleep can be an easy thing to mess up. Many Americans report at least some sleep deprivation on a regular basis. Low-quality sleep, or not enough sleep, may lead to many health problems, such as brain issues or higher stress levels.

Stress is not bad in the short-term. But chronic (everyday) stress takes a toll on the body. Elevated cortisol due to chronic stress poisons your brain.

Toxins trigger all sorts of health problems, including cognitive decline. Identifying mold toxicity, environmental chemicals, mercury fillings exposure, and many more toxins can help you know what to change in your daily life to stop or slow cognitive decline.

Dietary supplements may help some individuals slow or stop their Alzheimer’s symptoms. First, your doctor must identify the underlying cause, then suggest the appropriate supplements. These suggested supplements will be different from person to person. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new dietary supplement.

Brain stimulation, such as learning new things, improves brain function. Learning a new activity, picking up a new instrument, using computer-based cognitive training — they all lower your risk of cognitive decline.

Prevention

Preventing Alzheimer’s disease is undeniably better than waiting to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, then addressing the problem.

9 tips on how to prevent Alzheimer’s:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Avoid excessive alcohol
  3. Eat a healthy diet
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Check your blood pressure regularly
  6. Get high-quality sleep
  7. Reduce stress levels
  8. Maintain healthy social engagement
  9. Continue to learn new things (e.g., learn a new language, do puzzles, solve riddles, read new books, read new music)

Want to prevent Alzheimer’s using a plan that works… without breaking the bank? Get our guide to the Bredesen Protocol on a budget for as little as $5.

Statistics

  • 44 million people live with Alzheimer’s worldwide.
  • More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s.
  • 10% of people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s.
  • Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Life expectancy after Alzheimer’s diagnosis is 4-8 years.
  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or related dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s is, by far, the most common form of dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • In 2020, dementia will cost the United States $305 billion. By 2050, costs may rise over $1 trillion.
  • 16 million Americans provide unpaid caregiving for Alzheimer’s patients, valued at $244 billion.

Sources

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  2. James, B. D., Leurgans, S. E., Hebert, L. E., Scherr, P. A., Yaffe, K., & Bennett, D. A. (2014). Contribution of Alzheimer disease to mortality in the United States. Neurology, 82(12), 1045-1050. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3962992/ 
  3. Weuve, J., Hebert, L. E., Scherr, P. A., & Evans, D. A. (2014). Deaths in the United States among persons with Alzheimer’s disease (2010–2050). Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 10(2), e40-e46. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976898/ 
  4. Gustafson, C. (2015). Dale E. Bredesen, MD: Reversing Cognitive Decline. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 14(5), 26. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712873/
  5. Bredesen, D. E., & Rao, R. V. (2017). Ayurvedic profiling of alzheimer’s disease. Altern Ther Health Med, 23(3), 46-50. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28236613/ 
  6. Bredesen, D. E. (2014). Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program. Aging (Albany NY), 6(9), 707. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4221920/
  7. Bredesen, D. E., Sharlin, K., Jenkins, D., Okuno, M., Youngberg, W., Cohen, S. H., … & Hathaway, A. (2018). Reversal of cognitive decline: 100 patients. J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism, 8(450), 2161-0460. Full text:
  8. Bredesen, D. E. (2016). Inhalational Alzheimer’s disease: an unrecognized—and treatable—epidemic. Aging (Albany NY), 8(2), 304. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789584/
  9. Kennedy, R. E., Cutter, G. R., Fowler, M. E., & Schneider, L. S. (2018). Association of concomitant use of cholinesterase inhibitors or memantine with cognitive decline in Alzheimer clinical trials: a meta-analysis. JAMA network open, 1(7), e184080-e184080. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6324361/
  10. Iadecola, C. (2015). Sugar and Alzheimer’s disease: a bittersweet truth. nature neuroscience, 18(4), 477. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4731873/
  11. Masood, W., Annamaraju, P., & Uppaluri, K. R. (2020). Ketogenic Diet. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
  12. Shah, T. M., Weinborn, M., Verdile, G., Sohrabi, H. R., & Martins, R. N. (2017). Enhancing cognitive functioning in healthy older adults: a systematic review of the clinical significance of commercially available computerized cognitive training in preventing cognitive decline. Neuropsychology Review, 27(1), 62-80. Full text

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