Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most prevalent form of Dementia and arguably the most devastating. The disease itself causes the degeneration of cognitive functions and progressively gets worse over time. Although the disease seems to be becoming more and more prevalent in the older generation, there is very little known about the actual disease. Speculations have been made about the cause, how to prevent it, how to treat it, even as far as how to detect it. But our knowledge about the disease is very limited. Making Alzheimer’s, in my opinion, one of the most heartbreaking disease. Not only does it affect the person with AD, but it affects their loved ones and everyone around them as well.
The cause of the disease is unknown but there are theories that have been put forth to define the origins of the disease. Many experts believe it could be from genetics, because many people with AD oftentimes have direct relatives with AD as well. Genetic factors is now understood to play a significant role in AD. There is also suspicion that Alzheimer’s is linked to external factors that surround one’s life. These factors include what they have been exposed to in their lifetime. According to the book, at least 4 defective genes have been associated with AD. All of which have been located on different chromosomes. There are gene mutations on chromosomes 1, 14, and 21 that have been found to result in early onset Alzheimer’s (Gould’s, 376). There has also been a linkage between a mutation on chromosome 19 to late onset Alzheimer’s. In patients with Alzheimer’s have been shown with apparent difference in their brain. The brain of a patient with Alzheimer’s is significantly smaller than that of a healthy brain as well as the sulcus of the brain getting wider (Gould’s, 376). According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, there are two distinct structures that are found in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s. They are called plaques and tangles. Neurofibrillary tangles are bundles up Tau protein fibers which are indicative of old age. The problem for people with Alzheimer’s is that they have an excess amount of the tangles. Tau tangles lead to death of neurons. The other abnormal structure in an Alzheimer brain is called senile plaques. Senile plaques are beta- amyloid protein clumps that are found in between the neurons (Alzheimer’s, 2018). Although plaques and tangles are seen in almost all people who are getting older, there are many more of them in that of a person with Alzheimer’s. Also the location of where these plaques and tangles are play a huge roll as well. Ultimately Alzheimer’s will kill the cells in the brain which leads to the brain being smaller (Alzheimer’s, 2018).
Prevention of Alzheimer’s will be slightly more complicated just because there isn’t any certainty on what causes Alzheimer’s, only speculation. But there are some theories on what one can do to put themselves in the best position possible to avoid getting this disease. There are some no brainers like don’t smoke, have a good diet, and exercise regularly, get enough sleep (Prevention, 2018). Studies have shown that staying active and doing things that improve your cardiovascular fitness will also improve your brain health as well. Better cardiovascular fitness increase circulation of the blood throughout the body, including to the brain. Another way mentioned was to actively challenging their brains. This can be done by doing crossword puzzles, word searches, reading books, playing sports, and many other things. Constantly taking in new information will help your brain “stay in shape.” Alcohol over-consumption can also increase one’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s as well (Prevention, 2018).
Alzheimer’s Disease comes in stages; mild, which is the earliest stage of the disease, moderate which is the second stage, and severe which is the worst and final stage. When someone has Alzheimer’s, the symptom that comes to mind normally is memory loss. Which is huge aspect of what Alzheimer’s is. But not many people realize that there are other major symptoms that are detrimental to a person. Deteriorating memory is usually the first sign to be noticed. It usually just starts as small things, but then as the disease progresses, more and more, more and more memory is lost. Many people with Alzheimer’s have scattered thoughts and have trouble getting them organized. Many people have trouble with their decision making as well as their reasoning and thought process. People with Alzheimer’s sometimes forget how to perform certain tasks that may have been a normal part of their day. Such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, brushing their teeth, etc. Since the brain goes through changes with progression of the disease, many family members of the patient see personality changes in their loved ones.
Alzheimer’s can easily affect anyone. This is simply because age is the highest risk factor. But there are certain groups of people that are more likely to get Alzheimer’s than others. Firstly, women are more likely to get AD over men. This is due to the tendency for women to have longer lifespans than men. Some studies seen have shown that latin americans and african americans are more likely to get AD over the older white generation. Studies have also shown that people with Down Syndrome are more likely to get AD over people who don’t have down syndrome. People who have had a major trauma to their head are more likely to get AD. It is important for people to have social interactions, as well as be constantly stimulating your brain because by doing so, your brain stays “in shape” and will prevent AD. So people with a highschool degree or lower tend to be more at risk than those with a higher education. Also this is the same for those with very little social interaction. People with heart disease are also more at risk for AD. If someone has heart disease and a poor diet they will in turn have poor blood circulation. With poor blood circulation the body will not be able to flush out the waste that will eventually build up overtime (Risk Factors, 2018).
Currently there aren’t any cures for Alzheimer’s, there are medications and preventative care that help ease the symptoms of AD and attempt to keep people from getting it all together. Prevention revolves around leading a healthy lifestyle, especially with those who are more at risk to the disease. The medications differentiate depending on the stage and the severity of the disease. For a person with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, they are more likely to take a medication called Cholinesterase inhibitors. The purpose of these inhibitors are to keep the chemical messenger Acetylcholine from being broken down. This will improve the the communication between the neurons in the brain. For more severe cases, a drug called Memantine. Memantine will help improve memory, as well as other things like reasoning, awareness and their ability to do daily tasks. There are therapies for a person with AD that will help the patient long term. Physical and occupational therapy are beneficial to people with AD because it will help with muscle strength and balance. It is also beneficial to the person taking care of the patient because it will teach them what is potentially harmful and how to create a safer environment. Speech pathology is also important in therapy, they can reteach the person how to do basic things like how to swallow their food again, or make conversation (Mimi Jacobs, 2018). Although there are many things that can be done to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, very little can be done to slow this debilitating disease down.
There is currently plenty of research being put into finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. A lot of time and effort is going into trying to diagnose the disease earlier before it gets too detrimental. Scientist have discovered that the buildup of plaques and tangles begin far before the symptoms start to appear (Alzheimer’s Disease, 2017). There is also efforts going into imaging of the brain in hopes of detecting abnormalities before they become irreversible. Scientist are also able to look at one’s cerebral spinal fluid (Alzheimer’s Disease, 2017).. By doing this they are able to see the amount of Tau and Beta- Amyloid proteins floating around in the CSF. They can do this procedure and then again to compare it and see if there has been any dramatic changes in the amount of proteins there. An excessive amount of these proteins lead to the plaques and tangles that are directly linked to AD. There have been studies showing promise for a cure for Alzheimer’s, but these tests are being ran on animals, but when they are taken to the general public they fail in even slowing down the disease. So it is very hard to tell how close we are to a cure. For the future, we are better off trying to prevent the disease rather than trying to cure it when it has already taken its toll on the person with Alzheimer’s.
The reason why I chose Alzheimer’s Disease is because I didn’t know very much about it. I am thankful that none of my relatives have been affected by this horrible disease but I have seen first hand how detrimental dementia can be, so I can only imagine having to see one of your loved ones progressively get worse. I can’t even imagine one day waking up and my mom not even knowing who I was. Or one day my dad forgetting his name. But this is some people’s realities. After doing my research on this disease, I am deeply considering looking into a neurological side of medicine. There is so much about the brain that we just simply don’t understand, and Alzheimer’s is a part of that. With a growing population of people with AD, and that number only predicted to keep rising, I think it is important that we have more people doing the research to not only find a cure but also explore the ins and outs of the brain. Because in all actuality we know very little. This paper has inspired me to open up my options, because I thought I was set in my ways about which field of medicine I wanted to be in. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, and if I can help someone live a little bit easier with the disease then I feel i’ll be doing something useful with my profession