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Alzheimer's Disease - an Exploration of one of the Most Mysterious Diseases

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An Exploration of one of the Most Mysterious Diseases

Alzheimer's disease, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, is a disease that is on the rise in America and the rest of the world. People should learn as much as they want about this disease, because as you age, your chances of becoming an Alzheimer's Disease, or AD, patient increases. It is estimated that approximately 3 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have the illness, and more than half of all people over age 85 have the ailment.

AD is a form of dementia, a disease, that according to the Alzheimer's Disease Education & Referral Center is defined as:

"...a group of symptoms that are caused by changes in brain function. Dementia symptoms may include asking the same questions repeatedly; becoming lost in familiar places; being unable to follow directions; getting disoriented about time, people, and places; and neglecting personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition. People with dementia lose their abilities at different rates."

It is not uncommon for AD patients to become lost and wander away from their homes, thus leading to a very disturbing and upsetting experience for family members.

Alzheimer's can be diagnosed before age 65, although rare, and is caused by a mutation in 3 known genes. About 5 percent of those who are under 65 and possess the ailment have AD in their family history. Given that the symptoms of AD are caused by plaque in the brain, causing loss of nerve cells that help the body communicate with the brain, mutations to these genes; amyloid precursor protein, presenilin 1, and presenilin 2 cause a excessive production of certain proteins (primarily a B-42 form of amyloid protein), and therefore spark an excessive growth of plaque cells which are toxic to the neurons of the brain. For those cases of Alzheimer's that occur after age 65, a genetic mutation has yet to be proven, although some may be linked, to the fact that a difference may cause an increased chance of developing the ailment. Whatever the case may be for patients over 65 years old, the disease and its symptoms are caused by neurofibrillary tangles of almyloid plaques. It is impossible for someone to test positive for Alzheimer's Disease, because the only way to determine an affirmative case is to dissect and explore brain tissue, and look for plaques that cause disease. However, this can not be done while a person is alive, so there are limited human test subjects to study. Since AD is a human disease, animal subjects are also unavailable to use for examination of the sickness, but they can be genetically engineered to have mutant genes that cause them to have amyloid plaques, and, although they do not obtain AD or nerve failure, because they do not have neurofibrillary tangles, they do show memory and learning problems as they grow older. There are ways to put the blame of AD-like symptoms on other problems, like a stroke or brain tumor, and that is by using Computerized Tomography or Magnetic Resonance Imaging. (Know respectfully as CT and MRI) These brain imaging devices are useful, yet they still cannot identify plaques and tangles.

The symptoms of AD are caused by the plaque tangles in the parts of the brain are known as hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, which both manage memory, language, and mental processing. The frontal cortex also is affected. This is what, in the normal brain, causes one to daydream. Other parts of the brain that have been affected include the cortical and sub-cortical regions, which have been linked to the control of happiness and euphoria, and are affected when one uses drugs that alter these senses, such as marijuana. Also, those people who are constantly under negative stress are likely to develop memory loss, if they are fortunate and don't get AD as well. For this reason, as stated later in the paper when preventions are discussed, anti-depressants may reduce the risk of Disease development.

As shown in the diagram on the right, you can see how the parts of the brain are affected by Alzheimer's, to what extent, and what these sections control. It is shown in this cross-section, that the area used for language and speech is decreased, but not completely obliterated, and this explains why patients can talk well at times, and not as well at other times. The Memory sector, however, is wasted away to almost naught, and this give explanation to one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, memory loss. Many patients who have AD cannot remember what they had eaten for lunch. When I visited the Alzheimer's ward at the Veteran's Hospital, one of the patients I spoke with actually remembered where he worked when



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