Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that progressively destroys memory and the ability to learn. The person gradually loses the ability to reason, make judgments and to take care of his or her daily needs. As the disease progresses, the patient may almost always display a change in personality and behavior. It is common for a person with Alzheimer’s disease to experience anxiety, agitation, as well as suspiciousness and hallucinations.
There is currently no cure for the disease, but researchers are learning more about the biology of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; there is also another common type of dementia that is called Vascular dementia, which is caused by a decreased blood flow to the nerve cells of the brain. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease have both types of dementia, and doctors call that condition “mixed dementia”.
The advancement of the disease varies from 3 to 20 years. The cognitive part of the brain is affected first, the person with Alzheimer’s disease will become forgetful and he or she will have difficulty in being able to reason and make decisions. If the person is otherwise healthy, the eventual outcome will be death by the loss of brain function.
§ The early stage of Alzheimer’s disease is when problems arise with memory, concentration and the thinking process. These individuals usually need only minimal assistance with their activities of daily living at this stage. By the time the patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease they are usually advanced beyond the early stage.
§ “Early-onset” is a term for an individual who presents with the disease under the age of 65. These individuals may be employed and still have children living in the home. My cousin developed early-onset in her late 40’s and by the time she was in her early 50’s she no longer had cognitive abilities and she could no longer walk. She was bed bound and wheel chair bound, and she no longer had control of her bowl and bladder function. The disease killed her before she turned 60. Her family was devastated.
§ Late-onset is the most common form of Alzheimer’s, which affects people over the age of 65. The greatest risk factor of late-onset is age itself: “The likelihood of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s approximately doubles every five years after age 65. By age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent. Scientists have so far discovered one gene that increases risk for late-onset disease.”
“Rare, familial types of Alzheimer’s found in a few hundred families worldwide have been linked to specific genes. Individuals who inherit these genes are virtually certain to develop the disease, usually before age 65, and sometimes as early as their 30s and 40s.”
When a member of a family, who was previously well, develops Alzheimer’s disease the family may suffer catastrophic damages. The family will have issues facing them that include an upset to their financial security, as well as the children and other family members to learn to cope with the disease. In early-onset the person with the disease will rapidly change seemingly before their eyes in a matter of months, or a few years. The person will become someone you don’t even recognize in time, he or she will become more of a shell of what they used to be.
“Alzheimer’s disease has no known single cause, but in the last 15 years scientists have learned a great deal about factors that may play a role.”
Although the causes of Alzheimer’s is not completely known, scientists believe that whatever triggers the disease begins to damage the brain before any symptoms present. By the time symptoms emerge the brain has already suffered irreversible damage in the nerve cells that process, store and retrieve information.
“Scientists regard two abnormal microscopic structures called “plaques” and “tangles” as the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease” The plaques are fragments of protein that clump together and accumulate outside the nerve cells of the brain. The tangles are twisted strands of another kind of protein that forms inside the nerve cells of the brain. Yet, the role these proteins play in the process of the disease is not known.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but medication may delay loss of memory temporarily. An important part of the treatment for the disease is supportive care from family and friends.
Alzheimer’s research continues, and they hope to isolate the factors that influence the process of the disease. Researches believe they can find a way to delay the onset of the disease and maybe even cut the number afflicted by the disease over the next 50 years.
Work cited in quotations: Alzheimer’s Association fact sheet, website: www.alz.org