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HomeHealth A-Z Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's Disease is a common form of dementia that typically affects older people and the part of the brain that controls memory, language, and thought.

Alzheimer's Disease

(AHLTS-heye-murz)

Definition of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is a progressive and incurable disease that destroys brain cells and affects mental ability, memory, behavior, and muscular coordination. Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia and primarily occurs in late middle age. Complete progression of the AD can occur within a few months or over several years.

Description of Alzheimer's

We have all heard or know of someone who has or had Alzheimer's Disease. To just watch someone you love and care about waste away and forget who they were, their friends and family, and even lose their ability to read or brush their hair is difficult. The following information will help you learn more about Alzheimer's Disease and to find out what causes it, symptoms, treatment options, and more.

Alzheimer's Disease is a form of dementia, the most common form in fact. It typically affects older people and the part of their brain that controls memory, language, and thought. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease and still doctors and researchers are not even sure what causes it!

Signs of Alzheimer's Disease include amyloid plaques in the brain as well as neurofibrillary tangles. It was discovered in 1906 by Dr. Louis Alzheimer who noticed these tissue changes in the brain of women who died of mental illness.

Other changes in the brain have also been detected among individuals suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, which is also called AD. Basically, certain chemicals in the brain that are essential for relaying messages between cells decrease and also nerve cells die in parts of the brain that are important for memory and thinking.

Causes and Risk Factors of Alzheimer's

Since no cause has been determined for Alzheimer's Disease scientists are thinking that it must be a combination of causes that combine to cause this disease in different individuals. It may even be that several factors combine in different ways and affect people in a variety of ways. The biggest risk factor associated with Alzheimer's Disease is age. Individuals who are 65 and older have the biggest risk factor and every five years the number with Alzheimer's doubles.

Another risk factor is family history. In fact, it is thought that genetics may also be to blame for AD or at least the early onset form of AD. Late onset is not believed to be related to genetics, though there are some risk factors to look out for. One of these is the gene that makes a particular form of ApoE, or apolipoprotein E. We all have this protein, but only 15% of individuals have the type that will increase their risk for AD. Scientists believe that other genes may affect AD, but have yet to discover them.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's

At first, most people with AD have mild forgetfulness, which is believed to be age related forgetfulness at first. However, as times goes on the symptoms become more severe. Forgetting the names of individuals, recent activities, and places mark early AD. Then, forgetfulness begins interfering in daily life and individuals forget how to brush their teeth or cook, some even forget who they are. Reading and writing become challenges or completely forgotten and some sufferers don't recognize family members.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's

The only true way to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease is to determine if an individual has brain tissue tangles and plaque. This is not a possibility until an autopsy so doctors can only say that a patient “probably” has Alzheimer's Disease. There are special tools doctors use to diagnose AD and it is diagnoses correctly up to 90% of the time. The way doctors determine if AD is the illness is to do a medical exam and find out about the basic health of the individual and medical problems and the way they are able to interact and live. Tests that measure language, problem solving, memory, counting, attention, and other elements are also performed. Then, brain scans and blood and urine tests are conducted. The results of all of these tests help the doctors to diagnose AD.

The full workup allows doctors to detect certain medical conditions that may be causing the AD symptoms or else determine that AD is the problem. Once an individual is diagnosed with AD they typically live for eight or 10 more years. However, there have been instances where individuals live up to 20 years. Early diagnosis is important, however, because it allows for the best treatment options as well as the patient to take part in making future plans.

Treatment of Alzheimer's

Currently, there is no drug that can reverse the effects of Alzheimer's Disease or even stop the progression of this disease. There are some drugs that do help some patients to some degree. These include tacrine, galantamine, donepezil, rivastigmine, reminyl, and others. These drugs help symptoms remain mild for a period of time, but they only work with some patients. Other drugs are used to treat the symptoms of AD like depression, sleeplessness, wandering, and anxiety. This does not help the AD patient get better so to speak but it does make life easier to live and care easier as well.

There are some new treatments being researched to help prevent the disease, reduce symptoms, as well as slow the disease down. So far no wonder drug has been discovered and that is partly because scientists don't know exactly what causes Alzheimer's Disease. But, they are studying and working for a treatment or cure.

Some other possible treatment methods include ginkgo biloba, antioxidants, and even estrogen.

Prevention of Alzheimer's

Studies are being done to determine if there are any prevention methods for Alzheimer's Disease. But, until scientists determine exactly what causes the disease and why some individuals get it and others don't there will be no way to know if the disease is preventable or not. Some studies indicate that keeping the brain busy and occupied is important, though. So, older individuals should read, do crossword puzzles, study, and just keep their brains active and learning. Other studies have shown that bilingual individuals have a better chance of not getting Alzheimer's Disease as other people.

Related Articles

Alzheimer's Disease, by Lara Heflin, PhD

External Resources

Alzheimer's Association

UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center

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