Alzheimer’s Disease Alzheimer’s Disease With all of the advanced technology that the medical field possesses today, there is still suffering that occurs from incurable diseases. Alzheimer’s Disease is one of those incurable diseases that take the lives of many today. This paper will examine this disease thoroughly by looking at its definition, and discussing general information, facts, and figures. The cause of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the much thought about question of if it is genetic or not will disputed. Also the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease will be addressed.
Included will also be tips on how to make the life of an Alzheimer’s patient easier. What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, a neurologic disease characterized by loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting at least six months, and not present from birth. AD usually occurs in old age, and is marked by a decline in cognitive functions such as remembering, reasoning, and planning.(Robinson, 1999). A summary of other definitions found in other sources is: Alzheimer’s disease is a little known-about, but common, incurable or chronic brain disease that destroys the cells of the brain, and causes gradual loss of mental function and troublesome changes in behavior. The disease is thought to attack the parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling thought, memory, and language.
Along with this complex definition comes abundant general information, facts and figures. From the time in which a person first develops symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease to the time of their death is on average eight years, although this time may be as little as one year to as long as twenty years. Following only heart disease, cancer, and strokes, Alzheimer’s Disease is the fourth leading cause of death in adults. Currently there are approximately two to four million Americans that have AD, and due to the fact that the population as a whole will age, by the middle of the 21st century, that number might reach 14 million. Rarely does AD strike people in their 40s or 50s, and when it does it is considered to be a subdivision called early-onset AD. Elderly people age 65 or older is the class most often effected by Alzheimer’s Disease.
Three percent of all people age 65 to 74 have Alzheimer’s. Nineteen percent of those between the ages of 75 and 84 are affected, and for those over age 85 forty-seven percent are affected. The average cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease is considerable, and is approximately $174,000 per person over the course of the disease. This figure is for those persons who can be cared for at home by a friend or family member. If the condition is bad enough and the person’s caregiver has to seek outside help, such as a nursing home, the cost rises.
(Robinson, 1999) By reading all of these startling facts one may wonder what causes such a horrible disease. In the year of 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, the man in which the disease is named after, conducted an autopsy on a woman who died from an unusual mental illness. His findings showed changes in the women’s brain tissues. He found abnormal deposits, now called senile plaques, and tangled bundles of nerve fibers, now called neurofibrillary tangles (U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, 1993). Senile plaques are simply chemical deposits that contain degenerating nerve cells along with a protein called beta amyloid, and neurofibrillary tangles are malfunctions in nerve cells caused by twisted masses of protein fibers. These two abnormal structures are common between autopsies done on patients with Alzheimer’s symptoms. It is not clear how these cause problems, but presumably they interfere with the communication between nerve cells. This interference causes a person not to be able to respond normally to a message being sent to the brain (National Institute of Mental Health, 1994).
A common concern that is thought of when talking about the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is that of it being genetic or not. Although this question is still being researched, and is not yet fully understood, it is believed that early-onset AD is more likely to run in families than AD that strikes later in life. A belief that genetics has a roll in early-onset AD is supported by genetic markers that have been found on chromosome 21 and 14, but remember early-onset AD affects a small subgroup of people. A small amount of evidence points to the relationship of chromosome 19 to that of Alzheimer’s Disease that affects the elderly. Although there is this evidence, there is only a slim chance that a close relative of an afflicted individual will develop Alzheimer’s. If one has a family member with AD their chance of getting the disease is only slightly higher than that of the general public (National Institute of Mental Health, 1994). Alzheimer’s Disease progresses in stages, therefore the symptoms depend on in which stage the affected person is. The onset of the disease is slow, but gradually over time it becomes more aggressive and harmful to the person’s health.
At first the person will experience short-term memory loss which results in the forgetting of simple daily activities. For example, the persons might forget to take his or hers daily medicine. Also during this stage mild personality changes may occur, along with withdrawal from social interaction. The person will also experience memory loss that could effect their job, and the often misplacing of things. As the disease progresses the person will begin to have problems with abstract thinking and intellectual functioning, and they will become agitated, irritable, and quarrelsome.
Considered to be in the later stages of the disease are symptoms such as disorientation and confusion of what month and even year it is, as well as the person not knowing where he or she lives. The forgetting of the names of close relatives or even their own names, becoming violent, wandering off, not being able to engage in a conversation, having erratic moods and behaviors, and loss of bladder control are among the many symptoms an Alzheimer’s patient suffers in the later part of the disease. In extreme cases the patient becomes totally incapable of caring for themselves. Not being able to walk, talk, or eat (Robinson, 1999). Even with such a long list of symptoms the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is very complex. In most cases a person must go to see several different specialist, undergo many extensive test, and the result might take several months to receive.
The first thing doctors do is obtain a medical history on the patient. This is important because there are prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter drugs that can cause AD-like symptoms. Since other medical conditions such as tumors, infections, and dementia caused by mild strokes can also cause AD-like symptoms, tests must be used to rule these out. Such tests might include appropriate blood and urine tests, brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography scans (CT), tests of the brain’s electrical activity (electroencephalographs or EEGs), and other tests must also be preformed. Even after all of this only a provisional diagnosis can be made.
A final, positive diagnosis can not be made until death, and only if an autopsy is preformed to look for senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (Robinson, 1999). There are some treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, but none are totally effective seems how Alzheimer’s remains to be incurable. There are only two drugs that the FDA has approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, although there are other drugs being tested daily. These two are tacrine or Cognex and donepezil hydrochloride or Aricept. Both increase the levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals, released by nerve cells, that carry information to the brain (Baron, 1998). The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is involved in sending messages that have to do with muscle action, learning, and memory. So when theses drugs are given and acetylcholine is increased the communication ability of remaining neurons are increased. These drugs can not however stop the deterioration of nerve cells, nor can they regenerate damaged or deteriorated cells. Therefore, the most effective treatment of a patient with Alzheimer’s is good nursing care that provides both emotional and physical help.
The person’s symptoms can be treated. There are certain drugs that can be used to control some behavioral symptoms and to make patients more comfortable (Robinson, 1999). With all that has been said about the cause, symptoms, and lack of cure surrounding Alzheimer’s Disease one might wonder what could be done to help someone with AD. A person who is a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s Disease should reduce stress in the patients life and have routines that keep the environment as much the same as possible. Allow a person with AD to do for himself or herself what ever is possible, and the caregiver should do only those things that the patient can no longer accomplish. Do not tease or argue with the person, and do not let them become overly tired.
Limit the number of new people that are around the patient, and watch for situations that trigger unwanted behavior. Celebrate with the person what he or she can do well and always listen to what he or she has to say. Also, never forget that the person’s behavioral symptoms are not directed towards the caregiver or others. These what seem to be small things can make the life of an Alzheimer’s patient easier and less complicated (Norrgard, 1999). After reading about what Alzheimer’s Disease is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, it could be considered one of the curliest diseases that affects the world today. It takes away a persons self-confidence as well as their dignity.
The person has total loss of control of what use to be the center of their life, their brain. Previously they depended on the use of their brain to live a normal life, but when struck with Alzheimer’s they must face the fact they are losing control, and will eventually end up not being able to care for themselves. Possibly the worst part is that there is no cure, but there is hope for the future, because research is being done daily. Science.