Alzheimer's Disease

Edited by JuSilveira, Sharingknowledge, Jen Moreau, SarMal

Forgetting things is probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about Alzheimer's disease. However, this disease goes way beyond memory loss: the Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of Dementia, which is a group of conditions that affect mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning [1].

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Advances in technologies and medicine are enabling longer lives and diseases that have age as the main risk factor require special attention. Giving the increased aging population, a huge amount of research has been completed and around 90% of knowledge available about Alzheimer's disease was obtained in the last 20 years.

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What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive disease that destroys the memory and other important mental functions. This occurs when both the brain cells and their connections degenerate which compromises the brain functions. Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the USA and kills more than breast and prostate cancer combined. It is also estimated that more than 5 million of Americans are currently living with this disease, this number is expected to rise to 16 million in 2050. Every 66 seconds someone develops this disease in the USA.

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Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Alzheimer's remains unknown, but it is believed that the causes consist of a mix of environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors.What is observed in this disease is a level of shrinkage of the brain, a consequence of the atrophy of the brain cells.

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The main characteristics that are observed within the brain affected by this disease are:

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    The presence of amyloid plates, which are abnormal protein deposits
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    These deposits of the protein called beta-amyloid can interfere with the communication between the brain cells, and this can damage the tissue. Scientists believe the presence of amyloid plates is the main distinctive cause of the disease.
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    Neurofibrillary tangles containing the Tau protein
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    The nutrient transport network of the brain requires the integrity of the long extensions of its cells, which requires the normal structure of the Tau protein. When this protein twists and forms these tangles this ends up affecting the transport system between the brain cells, implicated in cell death.
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    The chemical imbalance of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
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    It is also common to find some vascular abnormalities in the brains affected by this disease
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All these characteristics reduce the effectiveness of brain neurons, which contributes to a gradual loss of function.This starts in a few areas of the brain (usually starts in the areas responsible for the memory) and spreads to the others over the time.

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When it comes to the risk factors, age is probably the most important one: Alzheimer's Disease is much more likely to develop in individuals over 65 years old. It is, however, important to know that 1 in 20 people with Alzheimer's disease are younger than 65, and the disease can be developed in the 40's (early-onset Alzheimer's disease),

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Additional risk factors in the development of Alzheimer's Disease include:

  • Family history. 5 percent of the cases of Alzheimer's development are caused by genetic changes that are specific and basically, guarantee that someone is going to develop it [2].
  • Head injuries.
  • Cardiovascular diseases.
  • Down's syndrome. The same genetic fault that causes Down syndrome is also known to cause the deposit of the amyloid plates that are characteristic of the Alzheimer's disease. The disease tends to appear from 10 to 20 years earlier in people with Down Syndrome [3]..
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop this disease. [4].

Symptoms

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Since this is a progressive disease, symptoms develop gradually and continue progressively. The first sign of the disease is usually memory loss and confusion.Although the most known symptom is the memory loss, the Alzheimer's disease can affect other characteristics of the body such as:

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    Cognition
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    Difficulty in thinking and understanding, making simple calculations and focusing. The patient can also experience memory loss and lapses, delusions, mental decline, and disorientation. Being incapable of recognize simple things and make new memories is also very common.
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    Behavior
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    Apathy, aggression, irritability, personality changes and an inability of taking care of itself. The patient can also constantly repeat their own words, without making sense of them. Routine activities start to become a struggle, especially the ones that require sequential steps.
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    Psychological Symptoms
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    Paranoia, depression, and hallucinations.
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    Muscular Symptoms
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    Incapability of combining muscle movements.
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Other common symptoms are urinary incontinence, loss of appetite and topographic disorientation.

The diagnosis of the Alzheimer's disease is done by mental assessment tests, as well as CT scans (computerized tomography) and MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging).

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Treatments

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease, but there are drugs and strategies that can control the patient's symptoms and improve their quality of life.

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When it comes to drugs, the main strategy involves combining medications that improve the cognition as well as nutritional supplements, which will help the patient's health in general. The drugs currently available can only manage the symptoms temporarily and maximize the patient's brain functions and independence. Scientists and clinicians continue to study Alzheimer's Disease and every new advancement brings them closer to developing treatment options.

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Sources and Citations

  1. https://www.google.ca/search?q=dementia
  2. http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_disease_causes.asp
  3. http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_disease_causes.asp
  4. http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_disease_causes.asp
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Article Info

Categories : Medical Sciences

Recent edits by: Jen Moreau, Sharingknowledge, JuSilveira

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