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Alzheimer's Disease

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Alzheimer's Disease

(Nervous System)

Alzheimer's Disease

Introduction

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder that leads to impairments in memory, thinking and reasoning. It is a late-life illness that causes a form of brain failure. It produces confused thinking, impairs judgment, changes personality, alters behavior. The illness is progressive and ultimately results in death. While it cannot be cured, it can be treated.

During the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease, many people are aware that their memory is failing. The progression of Alzheimer's disease may last up to 20 years in some individuals. People in the final stages require 24-hour care, as they become completely dependent for even the most basic activities such as eating, bathing, and using the bathroom. Near the end, patients become bed-bound and mute.

The third stage covers the period from the onset of total care to death; it usually lasts one to three years. At this stage, most people are in a nursing home. They have usually lost all concepts of past and future. They may not recognize family members though they usually are aware that they are friendly people who care for them. They lose all bowel and bladder control and toward the latter part of this stage lose the ability to walk. Near the end, they lose the ability to speak and to swallow and may refuse to take food or liquid by mouth. Death intervenes at this point.

Diagnosis

People who are worried about memory problems should see their doctor. If the doctor believes that the problem is serious, then a physical, neurological, and psychiatric evaluation may be recommended. A complete medical examination for memory loss may include gathering information about the person's medical history, including use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, and general health. The doctor also may ask a family member for information about the person.

Blood tests and urine test may be taken to help the doctor find any problems. There are also tests of mental abilities. A scan may show signs of normal age-related changes in the brain. It may be necessary to have another scan at a later date to see if there have been changes in the brain.

Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia can exist together, making it hard for the doctor to diagnose either one specifically. Scientists use to think that multi-infarct dementia and other types of vascular dementia caused most cases of mental impairment. They now think that most older people with irreversible dementia have Alzheimer's disease.

Wellness and Prevention

There is no certain way to prevent Alzheimer's disease. It may be possible to reduce the risk of developing the illness, Because Alzheimer's disease occurs late in life and there is such a long interval between the start of symptoms and death, the ability to delay the time when the first problems become visible would be useful

As people age, it is a good idea to do everything to protect their brains from premature failure. This will allow them to function at their best. People should exercise both their brains and bodies on a regular basis. They should maintain a healthy, nutritious diet. People should take vitamin E daily, consulting their doctor for the appropriate dose, avoid excessive alcohol, and review all medications they take with their physician on a regular basis.

Treatment

There is currently no effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Research has suggested many possibilities, but none of them show signs of improvement in the majority Alzheimer's sufferers. A healthy diet is important. Although no special diets or nutritional supplements have been found to prevent or reverse Alzheimer's disease, a balanced diet helps maintain overall good health.

Medical Therapy

Special types of medications, called cholinesterase inhibitors, are currently the only medications that have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for improvement of symptoms in people with Alzheimer's disease. These medications may help to improve memory, but it is more likely that they will only work to improve the ability to accomplish everyday tasks. The medications inhibit the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which prolongs its duration of activity in the brain. Because donepezil is only given once a day and does not have any bad effects on the liver, it is usually preferred over tacrine.

Symptoms

The early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may be overlooked because they resemble signs of natural aging. These symptoms include forgetfulness, loss of concentration, unexplained weight loss, and motor problems, including mild difficulties in walking. In healthy individuals, similar symptoms can result from fatigue, grief or depression, illness, vision or hearing loss, the use of alcohol or certain medications. But when memory loss becomes worse, family and friends notice that more serious problems exist. One way of knowing the difference between Alzheimer's and normal aging may be the patient's inability to understand the meaning of words. Along with sensory problems, such as hearing loss and a decline in reading ability, as well as general physical weakness in newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patients indicate shorter survival time. A number of other disorders may be causing these symptoms and must be ruled out before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be certain. About 20% of suspected Alzheimer's cases turn out to be some other disorder, half of which are treatable. An absolute diagnosis of Alzheimer's can only be made at autopsy after death.

Case Study:

Mary is about to turn 50 and has a lot on her mind. Her youngest child just left for college and her husband had a heart attack last year. It seems like he's doing well, but she still worries about him. Her family tells her that she seems moodier and more distracted than usual, and she's been forgetting things more often -- her car keys, a friend's phone number, what she needs at the grocery store. When she couldn't remember where she'd parked her car at the mall last week, she decided to see her doctor.

The cause of her worry is Alzheimer's Disease (AD). You see, Mary's father died two years ago

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