What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain condition that affects elderly people’s memory, thinking, and behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disorder affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans and is the fifth-leading cause of mortality for persons aged 65 and older (CDC).
Dementia, which is a terrible loss of memory and cognitive dysfunction in older individuals, is frequently referred to as Alzheimer disease, according to Dr. Brad Hyman, a neurologist and the director of the Massachusetts Disease Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Alzheimer is one type of dementia, which is a general term for poor memory and thinking. According to Alzheimers.net, 50–70% of instances of dementia are caused by Alzheimer disease.
History of Alzheimer’s disease
Alois Alzheimer never would have imagined that Auguste Deter’s tragic tale would turn his name into a household term around the globe when they first met in 1901. In his late 30s, Dr. Alzheimer was a bright young psychiatrist who was dedicated to learning how brain disorders and mental illnesses are related. He had buried himself in his professional practise, attending to mental patients at the Community Hospital for Mental and Epileptic Patients in Frankfurt, Germany, after the passing of his wife earlier that year.
At 50 years of age, Auguste Deter first became aware of her deteriorating memory. She quickly developed increased paranoia, dread, and aggression, necessitating her admission to a mental hospital at the age of 51. She stayed there as an inpatient until her passing in 1906, even though she was no longer in Dr. Alzheimer’s care at that point. Since then, he had advanced to a research position at the Munich Hospital, working with one of the most well-known psychiatrists of the day, Dr. Emil Kraepelin.
Dr. Emil Sioli, Dr. Alzheimer’s former supervisor from Frankfurt, informed Dr. Alzheimer of the passing of his former patient. He sent a sample of her brain to Alzheimer, who used new stains to microscopically examine Ms. Deter’s brain and discovered the presence of what are now known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.
Although it now appears strange, Alzheimer’s initial presentation from 1906 that connected this particular brain pathology to a clinical illness was received with little enthusiasm by his peers.
Kraepelin included Ms. Deter’s case in the 1910 edition of his highly regarded psychiatric textbook, and Alzheimer later published his descriptions of a number of patients with symptoms that were comparable in 1909. This dementia was given his junior colleague’s name by Kraepelin.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was consequently recognised as a “presenile dementia” to separate it from the well-known “senile dementia” supposed to originate from aging-related vascular disease because Auguste Deter was not an elderly woman when her illness first manifested. However, additional research revealed that the majority of older persons with dementia symptoms had plaques and tangles in their brains.
What the Alzheimer’s disease does to the brain?
The two characteristics that Dr. Alzheimer mentioned which are related to Alzheimer disease are inflammation and nerve cell death. It is generally accepted that the disease in the brain begins with an increase in plaques, which are protein deposits that accumulate in the gaps between nerve cells, according to Hyman. The tangled protein tangles known as tau proteins, which can accumulate inside brain cells along with an increase in plaques, can obstruct nerve cell transmission.
The nerve cells eventually die because of the ongoing damage caused by the loss of connections, which renders them incapable of performing their normal functions in the regions of the brain that control memory. Parts of the brain that govern reasoning, language, and thinking abilities are also impacted as more nerve cells perish.
According to Hyman, scientists believe that inflammation—the increased activity of immune cells in the brain—plays a significant part in the development of Alzheimer’s and is not just a symptom of the illness.
Symptoms of the illness
The following are the prominent symptoms of illness
- Repeatedly making claims and asking inquiries.
- Forgetting to recall discussions, appointments, or activities later.
- Systematically losing goods and frequently placing them in odd locations.
- Getting lost in locations you know well.
- Forgetting the names of familiar people and things.
- Difficulty identifying objects, expressing ideas, or taking part in conversations because of difficulty finding the correct words.
- Having issues with managing finances and concentration.
- Having trouble performing once commonplace activities, including cooking and playing a beloved game, and gradually forgetting how to perform simple actions, like dressing or taking a shower.
- distrust of people
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Aggression, agitation, and anger
- loss of self-control
- Mood changes
- Social isolation
- Pacing and meandering
Causes of the disease
Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be brought on by a confluence of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle variables that gradually have an impact on the brain.
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The main risk factor for Alzheimer’s is getting older. People under 60 are affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s, and some kinds may be inherited. The National Institute on Aging estimates that less than 10% of patients with the illness have early-onset disease. The more prevalent type of Alzheimer’s, late-onset, may show its signs as early as age 65.
Following are considered the risk factors for the disease.
An increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s exists in people with parents or siblings who have the condition.
Alzheimer’s disease can arise from genetic mutations, such as inheriting the apolipoprotein-E gene. (However, according to the Mayo Clinic, less than 1% of Alzheimer’s patients have genetic mutations)
The Down syndrome
Because Down syndrome patients have three copies of chromosome 21, which can result in an increase in amyloid plaques in the brain, they are more likely to acquire Alzheimer’s disease
Minimal brain impairment (MCI)
People with MCI have greater memory issues than is typical for people of their age, but the condition doesn’t affect their daily life. MCI can make people more likely to get Alzheimer’s.
Serious head wounds
There is evidence that head injuries increase the risk of the disease.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s cannot be made with a single test, but doctors may check a patient for indications of a stroke, tumour, thyroid condition, or vitamin deficiency because these conditions can impair memory and cognition, according to Hyman.
Along with performing a physical examination to evaluate the patient’s balance, muscle strength, and coordination, doctors will also provide neuropsychological tests to check for basic math, language, and memory abilities.
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In addition to going through the patient’s medical background, the doctor could ask the patient’s relatives or friends for feedback on changes in behaviour or personality.
Recently, especially in research, positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brain have been used to diagnose or track the illness. PET scans of the brain can detect the presence of plaques or tangles. The use of cerebrospinal fluid from a spinal tap to evaluate aberrant protein concentrations in the brain, which indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s, is another intriguing development, he added.
How to treat Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s has no known cure, but some of its symptoms can be managed with medicine, according to Hyman.
Drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors may be used to treat symptoms like agitation or depression. These medications include rivastigmine, donepezil, and galantamine.
In patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, the drug memantine may be used to slow the onset of symptoms. Antidepressants may be recommended to some patients to manage behavioural problems.
Experts concur that in addition to medication, lifestyle choices including maintaining a busy social, mental, and physical life can all benefit the brain. Consuming fish, poultry, and dairy in moderation together with a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be healthy.