Alzheimer’s is something that we all associate with the elderly
and getting older. It is not a disease to be taken lightly though.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, which is a brain disorder
that seriously restricts a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. It
is an advancing deterioration of the brain that usually begins with loss of
memory and forgetfulness. It affects the part of the bran that controls
thought, memory, and language. Researchers now say that alzheimer’s affects
more than 4 million Americans. The disease usually begins after age 60, and
the risk is greater as you get older. About 3 percent of men and women ages 65
to 74 have alzheimer’s, and almost half of people age 85 and older have some
form of the disease.
The diagnosis of alzheimer’s is mainly one of
eliminating other possible causes, since there are other diseases, such as
high blood pressure, diabetes, or alcoholism that can cause dementia. The
finding of two distinctive lesions in the brain at examination provides the
definite diagnosis. One lesion is called plaque, a group of dead brain cells.
The other, called neurofibrillary tange, is a twisted bundle of protein
threads within the cell.
The cause of Alzheimer’s is not yet fully known, but is believed to be caused
by a failure of transmission within the brain. The functioning cell within
the brain is the neuron. The neuron has a cell body, which sends out short
branching twigs (dendrites) on one side and an axon on the other side, ending
in similar twigs (terminal branches0. Neurotransmitters are sent through
these cells. In Alzheimer’s there appears to be a deficiency of at least one
major neurotransmitter, acetycholine, but what damages the cells to prevent
them from secreting the substance is not known. Alzheimer’s disease arises is
the electrical impulses fail to travel from nerve cell to nerve cell across
the synaptic cleft. This failure prevents the transmission of electrical
signals to the appropriate centers in the brain, therefore causing all the
warning signs of dementia.
Age is the most important known risk factor for alzheimer’s. Family history
is another risk factor. Genetics are believed to play a very important role
in who is affected by alzheimer’s. There is no cure or treatment to stop
alzheimer’s. The course the disease takes and how fast changes occur vary
from person to person. Alzheimer’s patients live on average 8 to 10 years
after they are diagnosed. Once a person is diagnosed, immediate steps need to
be taken. They should know what is happening to them, and try to understand
what is going on. Medicines like Cognex, Aricept, Exelon, or Reminyl may help
prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Patients in the
early stages will become very forgetful at first. They have trouble
remembering things that have just recently happened to them. As the disease
progresses, so do the symptoms. Wandering, violence, and loss of memory
become worse. They don’t know where they are most of the time, and will
forget who their family is. Alzheimer’s is one of the saddest diseases that
can affect a family. Having your mother or father, whom you have known your
whole life, forget who you are and sometimes become violent with you can be
extremely hard. Watching this disease slowly progress and break down your
loved ones’ body is terrible. Alzheimer’s is a disease that we all may have
to face someday, and the effects that is has are terrible.