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Alzheimer's disease

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Brain affected by Alzheimer's.jpg

Alzheimer's disease is an unalterable, progressive brain disorder which destroys the human brain’s memory as well as its thinking and acting skills. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia there is. This disease has no cure, however, there are treatment methods that can help in certain areas of memory loss. Alzheimer’s affects six million of the United State’s population today. Scientists and researchers for Alzheimer’s Disease predict that by 2050 over fourteen million American citizens will be affected by the terrible aging disease[1].

Alzheimer’s unfortunately becomes worse gradually as the disease advances. Alzheimer’s causes brain cells to die off more quickly than they would for a younger brain. The symptoms of this disease start to appear around the age of 60 to the person with Alzheimer’s. [2]

Symptoms

Some change in memory is normal as we grow older, but the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease are more than simple memory lapses. According to the National Institute on Aging, someone with Alzheimer's disease may experience one or more of the following signs:[3]

  • Has difficulty with new learning and making new memories.
  • Has trouble finding words - may substitute or make up words that sound like or mean something like the forgotten word.
  • Loses spark or zest for life - does not start anything.
  • Loses recent memory without a change in appearance or casual conversation.
  • Loses judgment about money.
  • Has shorter attention span and less motivation to stay with an activity.
  • Easily loses way going to familiar places.
  • Resists change or new things.
  • Has trouble organizing and thinking logically.
  • Asks repetitive questions.
  • Withdraws, loses interest, is irritable and not as sensitive to others' feelings, is uncharacteristically angry when frustrated or tired.
  • Takes longer to do routine chores and becomes upset if rushed or if something unexpected happens.[3]

Cause

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. There probably is not one single cause, but several factors that affect each person differently. Age is the most important known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. Family history is another risk factor. Researchers believe that genetics may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.[4]

Scientists still need to learn a lot more about what causes Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to genetics, they are studying education, diet, and environment to learn what role they might play in developing this disease. Scientists are finding more and more evidence that some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low levels of the vitamin folate may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence for physical, mental and social activities as protective factors against Alzheimer’s disease is also growing.[4]

  • Age – The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
  • Family history of Alzheimer's disease – Researchers believe that genetics may play a role in an individual's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes -- Scientists are finding more clues that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes may increase a person's risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.[3]

Technical Attributes

One of the three trademarks of Alzheimer's disease is the accumulation of amyloid plaques between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. In a healthy, functioning brain the amyloid plaques are separated and destroyed. In Alzheimer’s disease the amyloid plaques join together and harden, preventing the body from producing a normal thought process. Amyloid precursor protein (APP) is a large contributor when dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Amyloid precursor proteins are made up of amyloid beta peptides, our second contributing factor. Once multiple amyloid beta peptides come together a strong fragment is created, therefore making APP[1].

An amyloid precursor protein is a constituent component protein of the membrane used in many of the body’s tissues, distinctly in the synapses of neurons. Researchers study APP as the precursor molecule which procreates amyloid beta causing the makings of a 39 to 42 amino acid peptide, further resulting in the amyloid plaque’s major asset: the amyloid fibrillar[2].

The third contributor is the twisted neurofibrillary tangles of the brain; the tangles are made up of Tau. Tau is a protein that carries necessary nutrients to nerve cells which are passed on to other nerve cells located throughout the entire human body. However, the tau protein found in Alzheimer’s disease is abnormal, this results in the elimination of the micro tubule architectural components[3]. Research on Alzheimer’s unique Tau protein has shown that it is located in the forward cortex area of the brain. The amyloid beta peptides are shown to exist amongst the neurofibrillary tangles, as well as the Tau protein[4].

Treatment

Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, active medical management can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.

For some people in the early and middle stages of the disease, drugs are available that may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time or help control behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression.[3]

Currently, the vast majority of individuals living with Alzheimer's disease are cared for at home by family members. In fact, an estimated 25–29 percent of caregivers of persons age 50 or older (8.5–9.8 million caregivers) provide help to someone with a cognitive impairment, a memory problem, or a disorder such as Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease at home is a difficult task and can become overwhelming at times. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. As the disease gets worse, people living with Alzheimer's disease often need more and more care.

In addition to understanding the challenges of caring for someone living with Alzheimer's disease, it is also important to note that caregiving has positive aspects. It is usually undertaken willingly and may bring personal fulfillment to family caregivers, such as satisfaction from helping a family member or friend, development of new skills and improved family relationships. Caregiving is receiving increased attention as an important public health issue.[3]

History

Alois Alzheimer

Alzheimer's was named after a German physician Alois Alzheimer who first studied the disease, along with Franz Nissl. He graduated from Wurzburg with a medical degree in 1887 and was interested in a broad range of medical fields such as psychoses, epilepsy, birth control, Alzheimer’s disease, forensic psychiatry and the dementia of degenerative and vascular origins.[5]

A year later Alzheimer met Franz Nissl, a well known neurologist of that time. They met in an mental asylum where Alois had been studying women diagnosed with serious mental issues. His first year working there was devoted to his education in the field of psychiatry. This caused him to peruse a passion for neuropathology. Alois Alzheimer and Franz Nissl studied and researched the pathology of the nervous system, along with the normal and pathological anatomy of the cerebral cortex. Together, their discoveries were published from 1906 to 1918.[6]

In 1895 Franz Nissl became the world’s top leading German psychiatrist. He research mostly contained experimental studies relating to the tigroid substance with sectioned axons, and the reactions of nerve cells. Alois Alzheimer’s main focus for his research was the material of his patients. In 1895 Alois’s colleague Franz was requested by Emil Kraepelin to come to the University of Heidelberg. He accepted and within a few years was running the clinic for psychiatry. Then in 1902 Emil Kraepelin recognized Alois for his ground-breaking work and requested that he come do his research at Heidelberg as well. During this time Alois Alzheimer started to become famous, his research was well known by this point and he was excelling in all psychiatric expertise. He studied at Heidelberg for almost a year and then joined Emil Kraepelin to a psychiatric university in Munich. Alois worked with a man diagnosed with progressive paralysis for five years before becoming a professor for the Psychiatric Institute, then director of the clinic’s anatomical lab. In 1901 Alois Alzheimer was introduced to fifty-one year old, Auguste Deter. She became Alois’s main focus when it came to his research, she was his inspiration to further his studies, resulting in the discovery of Alzheimer’s Disease. [7]

Alois Alzheimer diagnosed this disease on November 4, 1906. Years previously, Alois had been studying the actions and memory of a woman named Auguste Deter, a 51-year-old woman from Frankfurt, Germany. He observed her in the Frankfurt Asylum for a few years before she passed. [5] Dr. Alzheimer’s research file on Auguste D was stumbled upon by in May of 1997. Professor Konrad Maurer came across the original folder filled with Alois Alzheimer’s notes, pictures of Auguste, her brain tissue analysis, a post-mortem report, along with her hand written words and sentences. A quote from Alois Auguste’s research,

“She sits on a bed with a helpless expression. What is your name? Auguste. Last name? Auguste. What is your husband's name? Auguste, I think. Your husband. Ah, my husband. She looks as if she didn't understand the question. Are you married? To Auguste. Mrs. Deter? Yes, yes , Auguste Deter. How long have you been here? She seems to be trying to remember. Three weeks. What is this? I show her a pencil. A pen."

"At lunch she eats cauliflower and pork. Asked what she is eating she answers spinach. When objects are shown to her she does not remember after a short time which have been shown. In between she always speaks about twins. Asked to write Auguste Deter she writes Mrs. and forgets the rest. It is necessary to repeat every word."

August Deter passed away in 1906 at the age of 51, at the request of Alois Alzheimer, her brain and records were sent to the capital city of Bavaria, Munich[6]. While dissecting the brain seeking the cause of the strange brain malfunctions, Alois found numerous abnormal patches, and tangles throughout the brain called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

After completing his research, Alois wrote a proposal which was to be published in light the disease soon to be named after him. Six months after his research was completed, Alois Alzheimer traveled to Tubingen to give a lecture on his discovery to his medical colleagues. One year later his research and documents were published in the Handbook of Psychiatry under the title, “A characteristic serious disease of the cerebral cortex". One year later the disease’s name was changed to Alzheimer’s Disease[7].

References

  1. Alzheimer's diseaseUnknown Author. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Accessed December 16, 2010.
  2. Alzheimer's Facts and Figures Unknown Author. Alzheimer's Association, 12/6/2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Alzheimer's Disease by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last updated: June 14, 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Healthy Aging: Alzheimer's Disease by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last updated: September 10, 2010.
  5. History of Alzheimer's Disease: Dr. Alois Alzheimer - His Life and Work (1864) .
  6. Alois Alzheimer Unknown author. NNDB. Accessed December 16, 2010.
  7. Alois AlzheimerGrace E. Jacobs; Harald A. Nygaard. Ole Daniel Enersen. Accessed December 16, 2010.

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