One of the most recognized disease that has had an increase in awareness is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease was first described in 1906 Alois Alzheimer. 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. This disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US and it is the only of the top ten diseases leading to death that cannot be cured, prevented, or slowed.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes problems with learning, memory, thinking, and behavior. How fast or how slow it progresses varies from individual to individual. The average amount of years a person with Alzheimer’s lives after symptoms become noticeable is eight years, but it ranges from three to twenty years.
There are two abnormalities that occur in a person with Alzheimer’s brain. People with Alzheimer’s form two structures in their brains called plaques and tangles. Most people develop plaques and tangles as they age, but people with Alzheimer’s develop much more of them. Plaques are produced from protein fragments called beta-amyloid that accumulate between nerve cells. Tangles are twisted fibers from a protein called tau . Although doctors do not know how these structures affect Alzheimer’s patients, some believe that they stop or disrupt communication between neurons and aid in the death of nerve cells.
There are many symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease. The most common one is difficulty remembering newly learned information. This occurs because usually one of the first parts of the brain that is affected by Alzheimer’s is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision, and problem-solving, appropriate social behavior, and other higher mental functions. Another sign of Alzheimer’s is having mood swings and being anti-social. Some people consider is poor hygiene and appearance a symptom as well. Poor hygiene and appearance occur because the person may not remember whether or not they have showered and they do not give much importance to what they wear. As the sun goes down people with Alzheimer’s sometimes begin to get agitated, restless, they may also get tremors, this is called sundowning another common symptom for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. As the disease worsens so do the symptoms disorientation, difficulty reading/writing, hallucinations, mood changes, incontinence, unfound suspicions, forgetting families/friends occur. Eventually the people affected have a difficulty talking, walking, and swallowing, sometimes they even lose the ability to perform those tasks.
There are several things that have to be done to diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s. Although sometimes it is apparent some tests still need to be performed to find out what could have caused the disease. A detailed medical history needs to be provided. Mental testing is also necessary for diagnosis so that doctors can determine the patient’s mental status. A physical and neurological exam along with blood tests and brain imaging are also performed to try to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. So far. There are several treatments. Treatments aim to slow the progression of the disease, control some of the symptoms like confusion or sleeping problems, and giving special care for the person. There are drugs that are used to slow the symptoms, but some people may not notice it because the benefits of the drugs are usually small. The Drugs used for that are donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Razadyne, ) and Memantine (Namenda). Some people believe that some suppliments and herbs like Folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin E, and ginkgo biloba slow down the disease or even prevent it. Studies done have shown no significant change in patients that use these supplements and herbs. To ease the strain of the disease the person affected and/or the family may decide to get the person with Alzheimer’s special care or have them move into an assisted daily living and later a long-term care facility.
There is also no known way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but it is advised to eat a low sodium diet, taking vitamins, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and increase intake of antioxidants. Basically it is advised to live a healthy lifestyle.
There is much research that is being done on Alzheimer’s disease because it is a disease that affects so many of the elderly population. Many are also alarmed at the number of people that are going to have this disease because the baby boomers generation is becoming elderly and will have diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Some people mistakenly think that dementia is normal part of aging, but it is not. People are not supposed to lose their memory, it is just that it has become so common in the elderly because they are the ones with the highest risk of developing it that people think it is normal.
There many promising studies being done on Alzheimer’s. The plan is to find a cure by 2025. One study that I found that has shown some improvements in patients with Alzheimer’s was conducted by UW Medicine. The research team found that within a four month pilot trial of taking an insulin nasal spray therapy that participants showed improvement in memory, cognition and daily functioning. Twenty-five percent of the patients who took the dose of insulin did better on memory testing. The research was conducted because people with Alzheimer’s appear to have a deficiency of insulin in their brains. The insulin was decided to be given as a nasal spray because it reaches the brain much faster, taking only about fifteen to thirty minutes. One of the researchers said that she believes that there are different ways of developing Alzheimer’s. So, her treatment may work for some patients while it may not work for others. I believe what she said to be true because there may be different reasons for developing the disease.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that can affect anyone and there is currently no way that we can prevent it or cure. People are learning to adjust to this troubling disease. It is amazing to see how much this disease has grown not only in number but also in awareness. Most of what we know about the disease we have learned from the research of the past fifteen years.
For more information on the association between Alzheimer's and Diabetes please visit http://ed-mesa.newsvine.com/_news/2012/09/18/13939485-diabetes-and-alzheimers-link
For more general information on Alzheimer's please visit http://www.alz.org