Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder which cannot be cured. It results in progressive loss of memory and thinking skills and then bodily functions. It is one type of dementia. Dementia is not the actual name of a disease. It involves loss of memory and the ability to speak or perform normal daily activities.
Stroke is another type of dementia. Drugs are available to help with some of these brain disorders. They may lessen the symptoms or slow the disease. Alzheimer's disease usually affects people over 60. Having a member of the family who has had it may put a person at a higher risk.
Most people with Alzheimer's disease are over sixty-five years of age, although about 200,000 younger Americans have early-onset Alzheimer's. The symptoms get worse over time. At first, memory loss is quite mild. In its late stages, memory loss is quite severe. People cannot even talk. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with the condition usually live eight years after the first symptoms appear. However, the range is from four to twenty years.
Research is continuing to try to find a cure for this disease. There are medications which can slow down the progress of the disease or help with the symptoms. As people age, some brain functions slow down with trouble thinking quickly or remembering certain things. However, serious forgetfulness and loss of ability to think may be signs that brain cells are failing.
Alzheimer's disease usually begins in the part of the brain which involves learning. As it progresses, mood changes occur, along with confusion and disorientation. Difficulty in speaking, swallowing and walking, and unfounded suspicions about people around the patient also occur. Unfortunately, the patient himself may not recognize that there is a problem. Family members may realize that changes are occurring. Early detection and diagnosis may help the patient.
A brain has one hundred billion nerve cells. Groups of cells have special jobs. All communicate with each other. All processes must work together. Scientists believe that Alzheimer's disease prevents the cells from operating in the way they are supposed to. Damage to the cells appear, they lose their ability to perform their tasks and the cells die.
Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment between cells. Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein which build up inside cells. Most people build up these plaques and tangles as they age. However, autopsies of those who have died from Alzheimer's disease show more of these two proteins. The problem begins in the area of the brain important for memory. Scientists think that the buildup of these proteins prevents communication between cells. Destruction of nerve cells causes the lack of function associated with Alzheimer's disease.
The name of the disease originated with Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor. In 1901, Karl Deter brought his fifty-one-year-old wife Auguste to a hospital in Frankfurt. Dr. Alzheimer examined her and made many tests on her abilities to function, speak and remember and found she had a rare brain disorder. After she died in 1906, the doctor was able to obtain her brain and perform an autopsy. This autopsy revealed the plaques and tangles which doctors today know to be present in the brains of those with the disease.
Familial AD makes up about five percent of cases of AD. These cases involve young people who had at least two close relatives diagnosed with AD. Research now is focusing on this type of AD.
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