Alzheimer’sis a nebulous disease, full of foggy and uncovered causes, effects, andtreatments. But what does that mean? Around 5.5 million Americans live withAlzheimer’s disease as of 2017. one in ten people aged 65 or older have thisdisorder. Two out of three people with Alzheimer’s are women. The likelihood ofgetting Alzheimer’s increases by 200% for African Americans and 150% forHispanics. To put that in perspective, every 66 seconds, someone in Americadevelops Alzheimer’s, developing or developed, it becomes a part of their dailylives. Theword Alzheimer’s or words “Alzheimer’s disease” may mean nothing to you withoutknowing what is actually happening when someone develops this disorder.
Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia in the United States, and this isdue to the effect it has on the brain. When neurons connect and communicate atsynapses in the brain, tiny bursts of chemicals called neurotransmitters carryinformation from one cell to another. However, Alzheimer’s interposes thisprocess and destroys neurons and synapses over time, damaging the brain’s communicationweb. This cuts off key functions of the brain and causes nerve cells andconnections to dissipate from brain tissue, leading to the brain physicallyshrinking over a period of time.
Sohow does Alzheimer’s occur? Knowledge of Alzheimer’s is limited and therelationship between cause and effect is unclear. However, cases of theearly-onset form of Alzheimer’s has an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern,meaning that inheriting a single altered gene is enough to trigger thedisorder. Gene mutations that are passed down through family bloodlines canresult in the alteration of the genes APP, PSEN1, or PSEN2. After one of thesegenes is altered, large amounts of amyloid beta peptide, a toxic proteinfragment, form in the brain. From there, the peptide can build up and clump toform amyloid plaques, which are able to destroy nerve cells and reveal symptomsof Alzheimer’s. The Punnett square for early-onset Alzheimer’s may looksomething akin to this: A a a Aa aa a Aa aa A= affected a = unaffectedLate-onsetAlzheimer’s is another story. The inheritance pattern is not defined in thesame way early-onset cases are. Rather, inheriting a copy of the APOE e4 alleleincreases the chances of developing the disease, and inheriting two of thesealleles increases the chances even further.
The development associated with theAPOE e4 allele is not to be confused with actually having Alzheimer’s, as thisspecific allele does not necessarily give rise to Alzheimer’s. While somereports have shown that late-onset Alzheimer’s tends to cluster in families,there are no hard facts that indicate a clear pattern. A multitude of factorssuch as lifestyle and environment may impact the likelihood of developing orpreventing Alzheimer’s.Crazy,forgetful, emotional, tired – all these words can be carelessly used todescribe a person affected by Alzheimer’s. These individuals are often writtenoff for old age when there is a deeper situation at hand.
Only one out of everyfour people with Alzheimer’s are actually diagnosed, and even less have beentreated. An arsenal of symptoms can help identify someone who might haveAlzheimer’s in order to begin treatment in the earlier progressive stages. An extremeloss of memory–so much so that it constantly affects daily life – can be oneof the key clues in diagnosing someone with Alzheimer’s. When a person beginsto have trouble concentrating, especially when working with numbers andfollowing a specific set of instructions, this often offers another sign. Mostsymptoms are in extremes so an average amount of activity in each of these categoriescould just be a sign of old age. Other indicators include difficultiescompleting daily tasks, confusion of where one is or how one got there, warpedperception of depth or color contrast, trouble following conversations andtalking repetitively without knowing how to continue, the misplacement ofobjects and blaming other for theft, continuous poor judgement, closing oneselfoff from social scenes or hobbies that one used to enjoy, and constant moodswings (often portraying anger and frustration).
Taking action afterdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s is vital; the earlier the better, as this can helpslow down progression of the disorder. It is also essential to identify howprogressed and/or severe the stage of Alzheimer’s is. Drugs such as Donepeziland Rivastigmine are used to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s, and Galantamineis used for mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer’s.
The drugs donepezil, galantamine,and rivastigmine, also known as cholinesterase inhibitors, slow down theprocess conducted by Alzheimer’s where crucial neurotransmitters are brokendown. The last drug used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s is calledMemantine. Memantine is a N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist whichregulates the activity of glutamate, an important neurotransmitter focused onlearning and memory. Attachment of glutamate to cell surfaces called NMDAallows calcium to enter the cell, which is important for cell signaling, inaddition to learning and memory. However, if Alzheimer’s disease is contracted,a surplus amount of glutamate can be released from damaged cells, which incurs anoverexposure to calcium that may lead to progressed cell damage. Preventionbefore diagnosis can be powerful. After reaching the age of 60, it isbeneficial to keep up with yourself. Learning new lessons consistently can keepyour brain working, developing, and problem solving.
This can delay Alzheimer’sand keep your mental health up. There is a surplus of factors that cancontribute to developing Alzheimer’s, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle isimperative. Being surrounded by proper emotional support can be a great help tothose with Alzheimer’s. Going to support groups or having family and friendslearn more about Alzheimer’s to help one through their journey can show thosewith this disorder that they are not alone, and this care sometimes can even hampersymptoms of Alzheimer’s.”We will cure you.” – a version of these four words can be arelief and a source of hope.
It is important to know that while Alzheimer’s canbe treated, there is no cure. Alzheimer’s is a fatal disorder, inunconventional and conventional definitions. Alzheimer’s creates seriousforgetfulness that can cause a person to forget important people to them andultimately forget who they are; this would be an unconventional death, as one’sbody remains alive, but only physically. Depending on how fast Alzheimer’sprogresses, as this depends from individual to individual, the leaving ofmemories and personality can be felt at different points during the developmentof the disorder.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s are the real fatality, not the diseaseitself. Such symptoms can cause walking and swallowing to be hindered and leadto pneumonia, urinary tract infections, pressure sores, or aspiration – theactual causes of passing. Alzheimer’s does not cause immediate death, and mosthealthy patients live for 5 more years after developing the disorder or 10 to15 years if diagnosed and treated properly. This is why it is essential tolearn as much as possible in order to see what can be done in the future.
Understanding the who, what, how, where, and when is thebasis of properly understanding Alzheimer’s disease. From there, there is awhole mass of unknown, unexplored territory. The cause and effect of thisdisorder can be delved deeper into and more research can be done in order tobring depth as well as light to this mysterious disease. Exploring possibletreatments such as stem cell therapy or other genetic therapies is anotheroption.
Considering its high death tolls, the lack of awareness surroundingAlzheimer’s is shocking. Spreading the word starts with one person and one idea.Diagnosing more people and diagnosing them earlier can make all the difference.No cure today does not mean that there will never be a cure, and all this priormaterial provides a springboard for future research, actions, and solutions tosupport people with Alzheimer’s.