Mother Nature has blessed mankind amongst all the entities on the earth with an extraordinary quality of logical and rational thinking. The storehouse of immense knowledge, ‘BRAIN’ is the source of this exceptional attribute. Unfortunately, the entire system of an individual becomes handicapped as the same brain starts deteriorating. The major culprit who is involved in the deterioration of brain is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease of the brain that robs the afflicted individual of intelligence, memory and eventually life.
As many as 2-4 % of all people of 65 years of age and older have Alzheimer’s. As many as 20 % (or more) of the population over 85 years age have the AD. Alzheimer’s disease (pronounced AHLZ-hi-merz) is one of several disorders that cause the gradual loss of brain cells. The disease was first described in 1906 by German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer. However, Alzheimer’s disease did exist long before the birth of Dr. Alzheimer. The research has shown that Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia; in fact, 70% of dementias are due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia is an umbrella term for several symptoms related to a decline in thinking skills and progressive deterioration of brain performance. Common symptoms include a gradual loss of memory, problems with reasoning or judgment, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills, etc. People with dementia also experience changes in their personalities and behavioral problems. The cumulative effect of all these changes becomes distressing both to the individual and their families. It should be stressed that Alzheimer’s disease knows no social, economic, ethnic or geographical boundaries; eventually, those affected are unable to care for themselves and need help with all aspects of daily life. The magnitude of this disease is huge, there are estimated to be 17-25 million people worldwide with Alzheimer’s disease.
What happens to the brain in Alzheimer’ disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by progressive death of brain cells. This results from two abnormal structures in the brain: Amyloid plaques (pronounced AM i loyd, which are clumps of protein fragments that accumulate outside of cells and Neurofibrillary tangles (pronounced NUR o FI bri lair ee), which are clumps of altered proteins inside cells.
Why do these changes develop in the brain?
Research about these structures has provided clues about why nerve cells die, but scientists have not determined exactly why these changes develop. In short, no one yet knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Most researchers agree that the cause may be a complex set of factors. Though Alzheimer’s disease affects individuals in 40s and 50s, studies have shown that the greatest known risk for developing Alzheimer’s is increasing age. As many as 2-4 % of all people of 65 years of age and older have Alzheimer’s. As many as 20 % (or more) of the population over 85 years age have the AD. A family history of the disease is another known risk. Having a parent or sibling with the disease increases an individual’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Many mysterious diseases have provided interesting clues through genetic studies. Scientists have identified certain genes, which are very strongly related to Alzheimer’s.
Many diverse medical theories, including the biochemistry of acetylcholine and neurotransmitters, inflammation, oxidative stress and free radicals, and homocysteine, nutritional and vitamin deficiencies, as probable causes of Alzheimer’s disease has been put forth. A wide array of risk factors for Alzheimer’s include, disorders of blood circulation, hormonal imbalance, head trauma, emotional stress, alcohol abuse, metabolic defects, nutritional deficiencies, and even some infections.
How Alzheimer’s disease presents:
Declining memory is the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s. Some change in memory is normal as we grow older, but the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are more than simple lapses in memory. People with Alzheimer’s experience difficulties communicating, learning, thinking, and reasoning – problems severe enough to have an impact on an individual’s work, social activities, and family life.
While it’s normal to forget appointments, names, or telephone numbers, once in a while, those with Alzheimer’s will forget such things more often and not remember them later. In addition, People with ordinary forgetfulness can still remember other facts associated with the thing they have forgotten. For example, they may briefly forget their next-door neighbor’s name but they still know the person they are talking to is their next-door neighbor. A person with dementia will not only forget their neighbor’s name but also the context.
Individuals with AD begin to misplace everyday items, such as the car keys or eyeglasses, and become disoriented and get lost in familiar surroundings (such as when driving on well-known streets). With Alzheimer individual find difficult to perform even familiar tasks and may forget the steps for preparing a meal, using a household appliance, or in what order to put clothes on.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease often forgets simple words or substitutes unusual words, making his or her speech or writing hard to understand. Individuals with Alzheimer’s often show poor judgment about money, and mathematics.
People’s personalities ordinarily change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer’s disease can change a lot, becoming extremely confused, suspicious, fearful, or dependent on a family member. An Alzheimer’s may become unusually emotional and experience rapid mood swings for no apparent reason. Alternatively, a person with Alzheimer’s may show less emotion than was usual previously. In addition, they may experience delusions (believing in a reality that does not exist), and hallucinations (seeing things that do not exist).
In the terminal phase, Alzheimer patient enters in a world where he can recognize nothing… neither family members and friends, nor himself.
How the disease progresses: Alzheimer’s disease advances at widely different rates. The duration of the illness may often vary from 3 to 20 years. Eventually, the person with Alzheimer’s will need complete care. If the individual has no other serious illness, the loss of brain function itself may cause death.
How the condition is diagnosed:
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is an important step in getting appropriate treatment, care, and support services. There is no one diagnostic test that can detect if a person has Alzheimer’s disease, but the process involves several kinds of tests and may take more than one day to complete the evaluation. Evaluations may include the following steps:
- A medical history, which collects information about current mental or physical conditions, prescription and nonprescription drug use, and family health history
- A mental status evaluation to assess sense of time and place; ability to remember, understand, and communicate; and ability to do simple math problems
- A physical examination, which includes the evaluation of the person’s nutritional status, blood pressure, sensations, balance, and other functions of the nervous system
- Investigations like a brain scan like CT and MRI to detect other causes of dementia such as stroke and laboratory tests, such as blood and urine tests, for checking various components of blood, hormones, enzymes, infections, etc.