Alzheimer’s

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What is it?

Alzheimer’s is a disease in which the nerve cells in the brain begin to die, thus affecting the sufferer’s judgment, thinking and memory over the course of a few years. This disease most commonly presents itself in old age.

Causes

The cause of alzheimer’s is unknown. There are however, a few popular hypotheses on what causes the disease.

They are: the amyloid hypothesis, the cholinergic hypothesis, and the tau hypothesis. The amyloid hypothesis has to do with what are called beta-amyolid deposits found on a gene on chromosome 21. Why this particular hypothesis is believed to be the cause is that chromosome 21 is the chromosome affects people with Down’s syndrome. Almost every person with Down’s syndrome gets Alzheimer’s in their 40s.

The cholinergic hypothesis is the oldest of the three. It states that the cause of Alzheimer’s is based around the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and it’s reduced efficiency. This hypothesis is losing its appeal because drugs that have been made to maintain acetylcholine efficiency have not done anything to stop or reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s.

The tau hypothesis states that proteins (tau proteins) in our body start acting very odd and tangling with other proteins. This in effect ends up affecting our neurotransmissions and thus our judgment, thinking and memory all become impaired.

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Symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease is broken down into 4 stages. Theses stages are separated by the difference in the functional and cognitive behaviors of the individual sufferer. The names of the stages are pre-dementia, early, moderate, and advanced. According to WebMD, the symptoms are sometimes so difficult to notice that it may take a family member to actively think back on the history of the patient and decipher it through deductive measures.

During the pre-dementia stage, the individual’s symptoms may be mistaken for those of old age or stress. The individual can suffer very mild cognitive impairment at this stage. Alzheimer’s disease affects only the complex daily living activities of the individual.

In the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, language, memory and learning are the key affected areas. Vocabulary and word fluency begin to drop and the individual begins to communicate at a fairly basic level. With memory and learning generally it is only new memories and facts that are affected.

During the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s disease individuals become unable to perform basic activities of daily living; thus, losing their independence. The ability to recall words is hindered. Individuals will start filling in words that make no sense. Motor skills are affected so that individuals may start falling more. Memory problems get worse. Close family members may be forgotten and long term memory, previously untouched, now begins to fail.
In the advanced stage the person becomes completely dependent of caregivers. They are unable to communicate, are extremely apathetic, and lose the strength to even feed themselves. At this point they are generally bedridden and susceptible to diseases that will lead to their deaths.

Diagnosis

Alzheimer’s disease is generally diagnosed from clinical observations and patient history and their collaborated history coming from family members and close friends. Medical imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) can be used to diagnose the disease.

There are also many tests that can be taken to see if the individual has Alzheimer’s disease. WebMD says that there are neurological, psychological and medical tests that can be taken to determine whether or not someone has Alzheimer’s disease. These tests are generally based around the individual’s cognitive abilities. The Alzheimer’s Association in partnership with the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke (NINCDS) came up with a criteria in 1984 to help with diagnosing patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The criteria is used after tests have been done and it is believed that there is some form of dementia affecting the patient.

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Treatment

Alzheimer’s diseases is untreatable. There are preventative measures that may help but none that have been proven to stop or slow the disease down. There are medications to help reduce some of the cognitive impairments, aggression and psychosis that come along with the disease but none that slow the disease down itself. There are also many types of psychosocial intervention that are used on Alzheimer’s patients. These interventions are used on a broader scale with all sufferers of dementia. They are classified under emotion, behavior, stimulation-orientated and cognition. Like the other treatments, none of these have been proven to actually help stop or slow the disease down.