Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. It impairs brain function and interferes with your ability to think and/or make decisions. It also alters your personality and affects your memory. Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease that causes a progression of symptoms over time. There are two stages of Alzheimer’s disease: early onset and late onset. Early onset Alzheimer’s disease, typically occurs before the age of 60, while late onset Alzheimer’s disease on or after the age of 60. Late onset Alzheimer’s disease is much more common than early onset.
It was previously thought that Alzheimer’s disease was an intrinsic and inevitable part of the aging. However, in the last two decades, this idea has lost its credibility. Current research suggests that a dementia-related loss of cognition does not occur as a result of aging, but rather they are side-effects of the disease.
When you have Alzheimer’s disease, you experience devastating neurological changes. Two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease pathology are: the growth of plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The plaques and the tangles cause the deterioration of neurons, which then leads to the loss of cognitive and behavioral function.
If you feel that you may have this disease or you have a loved one with this disease it is important to consult a physician as soon as possible. Periodic losses of memory may actually be biomarkers (elevated phosphor-tau and reduced A peptide) for the disease. These biomarkers can be determined by a cerebrospinal fluid analysis, although any mild impairment in memory and/or reasoning can precede Alzheimer’s disease.
How Common is Alzheimer’s Disease?
In 2010, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that Alzheimer’s disease is the 7th leading cause of death. The association also claimed that 5.3 million people suffer from the condition and that it costs 172 billion dollars annually to treat the condition.
What Treatments Are Available for Alzheimer’s Disease?
At this time, treatment goals do not include prevention, remission or a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Since we do not yet know which traits or conditions trigger Alzheimer’s disease treatment focuses on management and the delay of symptoms. However, there are several approved medications that are used to treat the condition.
Alzheimer’s disease research focuses on prevention and finding a cure for the condition. Scientists are now investigating the role of cholesterol in the development of the disease. They have found that Alzheimer patients have higher levels of cholesterol in their blood. These high cholesterol levels cause changes in their brain. Scientist believes that lowering cholesterol in the blood of Alzheimer patients will slow the disease. In addition, researchers suggest that statin therapy may improve cognitive function.
Researchers believe that cholesterol-lowering medications in combination with cholinesterase inhibitors, estrogen, and vitamin E may improve cognitive performance and restore memory loss. Dietary changes along with the use of statins may slow the progression of the disease and, thus, prevent early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Antioxidants may also help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. So far, research results have been mixed, with some studies showing positive results for vitamin E and vitamin C supplements, while others showed no positive effect.
In addition, your physical condition and your emotional health may play role in decreased cognitive function. When older, sedentary adults increase their physical activities and receive training in memory retention, their age-related memory loss decreases.
The marketing strategies used by pharmaceutical companies characterize their Alzheimer’s disease medications as being highly effective. These companies advertise that if you take their medication you will experience a dramatic reduction in Alzheimer-related symptoms. In a letter dated February 3, 2010, the Food and Drug Administration reprimanded the director of Eisai Medical Research Inc., the marketing arm of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, for releasing promotional materials that “misleadingly overstate the efficacy of the drug.” The company was ordered to immediately cease distribution these materials.
It is important to balance a modest improvement in cognitive function against the quality of life offered by such an improvement. The early days of this disease can be extremely depressing. During the initial stages of the disease, you may be confused, angry and/or frustrated. Medication, however effective, merely serves to prolong this period. In addition, medication along with therapy can cost anywhere from $150 to $200 per month and this does not include the need for caregiver services or hospitalization.
Where Can I Find Out Additional Information on Alzheimer’s Disease?
The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) offers information on clinical trials, chat rooms, message forums and a 24/7 hotline to help you find answers to your questions.
Alzheimer’s Association. (2010). Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s Dementia. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from www.alz.org/documents_custom/report_alzfactsfigures2010.pdf.
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