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Alzheimer's Disease

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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia, "a brain disorder that seriously affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities (Shenk 14)". Alzheimer's is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, make judgments, communicate, and accomplish daily activities. As Alzheimer's progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or aggravation, as well as illusions or hallucinations.

Alzheimer's disease is named after a German doctor, Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer became aware of changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Dr. Alzheimer found irregular clusters and tangled bundles of fibers. Today, these plaques and tangles in the brain are considered signs of Alzheimer's (Shenk 12-14). Scientists have also found other brain changes in people with Alzheimer's. Nerve cells die in areas of the brain that are vital to memory and other mental abilities. There also are lower levels of some of the chemicals in the brain that carry messages back and forth between nerve cells. Although many things are known about Alzheimer's, there are still many things that remain a mystery, such as causes, and how to cure Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's disease affects the brain cells which are called neurons. Neurons send messages from one to another, which allows us to think, remember and speak. In each of the neurons there is a branch like structure. Some carry impulses away from neurons (afferent), and some bring impulses to the neurons (efferent). The relaying of impulses from neuron to neuron in the brain makes it possible for one to carry out physical and mental tasks. When plaques and tangles form in the brain, they disrupt the flow of messages to the neurons. This happens when people age, but with an Alzheimer's patient there are many more that disrupt, which allows them to forget simple tasks. Plaques are abnormally sticky clusters of protein. They disrupt pathways that carry signals from neuron to neuron. Plaque is a deposit of protein mixed with fragments of dead or dying neurons found in the brains of patient who have Alzheimer's. A tangle is a set of twisted nerve cell fibers found in the cell bodies of neurons in the brains of the patients who have Alzheimer's. Tangles clod the neurons and keep them from functioning properly. When neurons are clogged with tangles and spaces between neurons clogged with the plaques, the transmission of nerve impulses from one neuron to the next doesn't happen properly. As a result, the brain has difficulty performing mental functions such as thinking and remembering.

In times past many people thought that memory loss was a normal occurrence for elderly people. This thinking was major reason for why Alzheimer's disease was not caught until very later in the stages. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging. After heart disease, cancer, and strokes, Alzheimer's is the most common cause of death in adults in the Western world. "It is estimated that 4.5 million Americans over the age of 65 are affected with this condition. After the age of 65, the incidence of the disease doubles every five years and, by age 85, it will affect nearly half of the population" (Robinson).

The beginning and symptoms of Alzheimer's are usually very slow and gradual. Alzheimer's hardly ever occurs before the age of 65. It occurs (according to the AHAF) in the following seven stages: In stage 1 There are no impairment- Unimpaired individuals experience no memory problems and none are evident to a health care professional during a medical interview. Stage 2 Is a very mild decline- Individuals at this stage feel as if they have memory lapses, especially in forgetting familiar words or names or the location of keys, eyeglasses, or other everyday objects. But these problems are not evident during a medical examination or apparent to friends, family, or co-workers. Stage 3 is Mild decline- Friends, family, or co-workers begin to notice deficiencies. Problems with memory or concentration may be measurable in clinical testing or discernible during a detailed medical interview. Common difficulties include: forgetfulness, poor insight, mild difficulties with word-finding, personality changes, difficulties with calculations, losing or misplacing things, repetition of questions or statements and a minor degree of disorientation. Stage 4 is a moderate decline (mild or early stage Alzheimer's)- At this stage, a careful medical interview detects clear-cut deficiencies in the following areas: memory worsens, words are used more and more inappropriately, basic self-care skills are lost, personality changes, agitation develops, can't recognize distant family or friends, has difficulty communicating, wanders off, becomes deluded and may experience hallucinations. Stage 5: is a moderately severe decline (moderate or mid-stage AD)- Major gaps in memory and deficits in cognitive function emerge. Some assistance with day-to-day activities becomes essential. Stage 6 is a severe decline (moderately severe or mid-stage AD)- Memory difficulties continue to worsen, significant personality changes may emerge, and affected individuals need extensive help with customary daily activities. Stage 7 is a Very severe decline (severe or late stage AD)- This is the final stage of the disease when individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, the ability to speak, and, ultimately, the ability to control movement. This is when the Alzheimer's patient becomes bedridden, incontinent, uncomprehending and mute

There are several warning signs, 10 that this paper will bring out, that one should look for, when trying to diagnose whether or not the individual has Alzheimer's disease. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other disorders causing dementia is an important step to getting appropriate treatment, care and support services. The signs to look out for are the following: memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality, and finally loss of initiative.

Alzheimer's is a fatal disease. It begins with the destruction of cells in regions of the brain that are important for memory. However, the eventual loss of cells in other regions of the brain leads to the failure of other essential systems in the body. Also, because many people with Alzheimer's have other illnesses common in older age, the actual cause of death may be no single



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