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Alzheimer's Disease

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

Article by: Sucharita Desu

September is World Alzheimer’s Month. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder and type of dementia that affects a person’s memory, thinking, and behavior. is the most common cause of dementia. In addition, Alzheimer’s is an atrophy, meaning it causes the brain to shrink and neurons to die. Approximately 5.8million people in the United States aged 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s disease. About 80% of them are 75+ years old.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are difficulty remembering newly learned information (which eventually becomes serious memory loss), disorientation, and mood and behaviour changes. It also causes a deepening confusion about events, time, and place. People with Alzheimer’s may also have unfounded suspicions about family, friends, and professional caregivers. They also have trouble speaking, swallowing and walking.

Since Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, it means that symptoms and the overall condition worsens over time. In the initial stages, memory loss is mild, and the other symptoms may not even be present. In later stages, a person with Alzheimer’s loses the ability to carry on conversation and respond to their surrounding environment. According to studies, people with Alzheimer’s live for about four to eight years after their diagnosis. However, they can live as long as 20 years after their diagnosis depending on other factors, such as lifestyle.

In our brains, neurons work together to perform certain functions in groups. Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of these groups from functioning properly. Although it is not sure where the problem starts, the damage spreads quickly. Neurons start to lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, which causes irreversible brain damage. Two prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells are abnormal structures called plaques and tangles. Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid. They guild up in the spaces between nerve cells. Tangles are twisted fibres of another protein called tau. They build up inside cells. It is believed that plaques and tangles develop with age for everyone, but for people with Alzheimer’s disease, they tend to develop far more in a predictable pattern. Plaques and tangles begin developing in areas important for memory before spreading to other parts of the brain. Scientists believe that they play a critical role in blocking the communication among neurons and disrupting the processes that allow neurons to survive.

In addition, family history and genetics. A variation of apolipoprotein E gene that can be inherited can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Air pollution can also speed up the degeneration of the nervous system. Alzheimer’s also has many of the same symptoms as heart disease, like obesity and high blood pressure. A lack of learning and social engagement is also said to increase the risk of the disease. Other risk factors include age, mild cognitive impairment, down syndrome, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor sleep patterns.

Alzheimer’s disease can have some complications. This includes inability to communicate about experiencing pain, explain symptoms of other illnesses, and/or follow the treatment plan. Having Alzheimer's also makes people more vulnerable to other health problems like the flu, fractures, bedsores, malnutrition, dental problems, and more. It is also important to note that people with Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs and symptoms are often more obvious to friends and family. If a person has Alzheimer’s they should see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving dramatically, so it’s better to get treatment and support as soon as possible to improve their quality of life.

Alzheimer’s is unfortunately not preventable. However, you can change your lifestyle so that some things aren’t risk factors anymore, such as changing diet, exercise, and other habits. There are also studies that have shown participation in social events, reading, dancing, playing board games, creating art, playing an instrument, and other activities that require mental and physical engagement reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is also not curable. Current treatments like medication only temporarily slow symptoms and improve the quality of life. One of the treatments has been showing more success, aducanumab (Aduhelm). It’s the first therapy to demonstrate that removing amyloid (which is the hallmark of the disease) is reasonably likely to reduce cognitive function decline in people living with Alzheimer’s. Research is still underway for other treatments for the disease.

As always, it is encouraged that you do more research to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and spread awareness. Check out these sites for a place to start:

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