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Alzheimer’s Disease by Briana Zurbriggen

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Alzheimer’s can affect anyone over the age of 50 and every year the chance of developing it increases. “Alzheimer’s is a degenerative, incurable brain disease that systematically robs the mind of its ability to think, plan, remember and express basic thoughts and needs.”(2) This disease is the most common cause of dementia in 60-80% of cases. The disease can last from 2-20 years but the average person can live up to 8 years after diagnosis. Alzheimer’s disease was named for Dr. Alois Alzheimers, an early 20th century German doctor.(2) Dr. Alois had a patient in 1906 who died at the age of 51. The patient suffered for years from memory loss, progressive loss in cognitive functions and bizarre alterations to their personality. The autopsy showed many unusual lesions and entanglements in the brain.

Alzheimer’s is a very difficult disease to understand because it is so similar to many types of dementia. Some symptoms of Alzheimer’s are: problems with short term memory, difficulty learning new information, disorientation, language problems and many more. Symptoms may develop slowly and get worse overtime, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.(3) Most people with Alzheimer’s die with the disease, not from it. Pneumonia or an infection is likely to be the cause death because Alzheimer’s has the ability to weaken the immune system.(2)

Alzheimer’s disease has 3 major stages but there are 7 stages all together.

Stage 1 is known as no impairment, this is the beginning stage. Most people can function normally and show no memory problems or symptoms.(3) The beginning 4 stages infect the hippocampus slowly and over time the damage moves into the cerebral cortex.

Stage 2 is a very mild cognitive decline; this stage consists of memory lapses such as forgetting familiar words, and location of everyday objects. None of these symptoms can be detected during a medical examination or by loved ones.(3)

Stage 3 is known as early-onset. This stage can be detected in some patients, but not in all.(3) There are noticeable differences, such as even more problems coming up with the right words or names for objects or people. This stage can be mistaken for normal aging and senility.(2)

Stage 4 is called moderate cognitive decline. Some symptoms are forgetfulness of recent events, being moody or withdrawn, and more difficulty performing complex tasks like making dinner.

Stage 5 is known as mid-stage. By this stage the damage has spread to the cerebral cortex which effects language, reasoning, perceptions, and judgments. Some of the symptoms are hallucinations, emotional outbursts, and delusions.

The 6th stage is severe cognitive decline. Patients in this stage have trouble remembering personal history, they need help dressing and bathing, and they may also wander, causing them to become lost.(3)

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The last stage, stage 7, is the worst stage of this disease. Some symptoms of the severe late stage are only being able to say two to three word responses, and abnormal reflexes such as random hand movements. Other symptoms of this stage are the inability to recognize family, and the inability to hold their heads up.(2) Eventually the brain loses control of the body and the sensory organs shut down. (2) These patients need around-the-clock care.

Alzheimer’s destroys nerve cells, causing widespread neuron death throughout the brain.(2) When neurons in the brain die it causes the damaged areas to shrink. This shrinkage destroys memory, personality, brain and body function. In the brain there are plaques. Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that builds up in the spaces between nerve cells.(3) These are most damaging to the brain when they are in groups. The brain also has tangles. Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau that build up inside cells.(3) Tangles develop inside neurons, collapse into twisted strands which causes them to no longer stay straight.(3) They then fall apart and disintegrate. When this happens, it causes nutrients and other essential supplies to no longer move through the cells and cells eventually die. Patients with Alzheimer’s tend to develop more plaques and tangles in a predictable pattern, starting in the memory area and moving outward. The brain shrinks the worst in the hippocampus which is where new memories form.

There are some things that can cause a greater risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease, such as strong family histories, age, severe head injury and being a female. But there are ways to lower your risk. Exercising stimulates brain cell activity, spurring the growth of dense interconnected webs that make the brain run faster and more efficiently. (2) Although there is not a cure for Alzheimer’s, there are treatments and clinical trials that won’t stop or reverse the progression, but they do help ease the symptoms and provide comfort. The FDA has approved 5 prescription medicines that target memory loss and other cognitive symptoms of dementia.(2) The most frequently prescribed drug is Donepezil (Aricept). 70% of all Alzheimer’s patients who choose drug treatments are given this drug and half of them have had success with the drug. It is approved to treat all stages and prevents the breakdown of the enzyme acetylcholine in the brain.(2) Stated earlier in this paragraph clinical trials are another option. But there are some drawbacks to clinical trials. For one, a patient may be given a placebo drug. A placebo drug is an inactive treatment, a look alike of the real thing.(1) Another thing is there are risks; the treatment may not work for everyone. Lastly, a patient’s health insurance may not cover the trial and it is very time consuming.(1)

Alzheimer’s is not a disease to fear, wasting time panicking and going into denial could make it worse. The sooner someone is diagnosed, the better it is for them to get the best treatment. To get more information or to have any questions answered the AMA suggests you visit www.alz.org.

Works Cited
1. Bonner, D(2008)“The 10 best questions for living with Alzheimer’s.”New York: Fireside(318)
2. Dezell, M.(2009)”The everyday health guide to Alzheimer’s disease: A reassuring, informative guide for families and caregivers” MA: Adams Media(290)
3. “What is Alzheimer’s”(2011).Alzheimer’s Association.www.alz.org


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