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Understanding Alzheimers Disease
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Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating degenerative disorder and is the commonest form of dementia. More than five million Americans are affected by the disease.

Dementia which means mental deterioration is not a disease, but rather the manifestation of a group of brain disorders which are characterized by progressive loss of cognitive functions.

The brain which is composed of billions of interconnected neurons or nerve cells is the most complex and important organ of the human body. It is responsible for the coordination of all activities of the human organism, both voluntary and involuntary functions.

In Alzheimer’s disease there is degeneration and death of brain cells (neurons). This causes a steady loss of memory and results in the impairment and progressive loss of intellectual and social skills which interfere with normal everyday activities, which has a devastating impact on those affected and their family members.

Although there has been intensive and extensive research (which are still on-going), the exact causes of the disease are not known. In an estimated five percent Alzheimer’s disease is caused by specific genetic factors.

Changes or mutations in a number of genes have been identified by scientists, which makes it almost a surety that those individuals will develop Alzheimer. However, in the vast majority of cases it is believed to be a combination of the influence or interaction of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. There are certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

1. Genetics. Genetic factors or abnormal genes have been clearly identified. It therefore means that if there is a strong family history of the disease, for example, if parents, grandparents or any siblings are affected then the risk becomes much higher. 2. Gender. Women are more affected than men. 3. Age. Advancing age increases the likelihood the disease. Most people affected by Alzheimer’s disease develop it after age sixty five. 4. Cardio-vascular diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension. 5. Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercises, and substance abuse namely the excess consumption of alcohol and smoking.

It has also been suggested that people who are under chronic stress, or who do not make regular use of the higher cognitive functions, through reading for example are also at increased risks.

The main symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s disease bears direct correlation to the loss of memory function and memory loss may be mild, moderate or severe depending on the stage of the disease and effects of treatment.

In the mild or earliest stages of the disease it may go unnoticed and undiagnosed. This is chiefly due to the fact that normal healthy individuals do experience memory lapses at times.

As we live longer our short term memory is less effective, while events of the distant past are recalled in details. This results in many who are developing Alzheimer’s disease in the earliest stages to attribute their memory lapses to simply the process of getting older.

It must be stated clearly that although Alzheimer chiefly affects the elderly and the likelihood of the disease developing increases the longer one lives, it is not a natural aging phenomenon but rather a debilitating degenerative disorder.

In the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease; memory loss may manifest as difficulties retaining new information, things which were said or done a day or two earlier or even earlier in the day. They develop problems in organizing their daily activities. This will reveal as forgetting to do some of their daily or regular chores, misplacing things easily, and the inability to find specific locations such as a pharmacy, store or supermarket which they have been accustomed to visiting for years.

There is also the tendency to get lost in the town or returning home, whether the affected individuals are driving or walking. At the same time however, they still maintain some of their spatial orientation.

The changes or memory changes are sometimes noticed in conversations where the affected individuals appear to be less focused; forget things which were said earlier in the conversation and sometimes even at the start of sentences.

Of note is that during the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease the affected individuals remain fairly active and independent in looking after themselves.

In the moderate stage of Alzheimer’ disease; the symptoms and signs become more manifest and in many instances this is the stage when the diagnosis is made or medical attention first sought by relatives or the affected persons.

At this stage they, not only have difficulty but, are unable to recall any recent information. They lose their orientation in space and will even have difficulty moving in and around the house. They will easily miss their way, for example, in going to the bathroom or kitchen. They may still recall where they live, or used to work.

Problems with speech develop and they have difficulty expressing them clearly and understanding others. Their orientation in time is lost. At this stage they are unable to recall close family members such as a spouse and their children and friends or people they may have known for decades. However, they still maintain personal orientation. As memory loss worsens they now become more dependent on others. They begin to have difficulties doing the basic things such as bathing, combing the hair and dressing and even feeding themselves.

The third stage of Alzheimer’s disease is truly debilitating and devastating for both the affected individuals and their families and friends. This is characterized first and foremost by the total loss of memory. The affected individuals cannot even recall who they are.

They are not able to help themselves in any way and are totally dependent on others and by this stage are generally confined to bed. Incontinence of faeces and urine becomes par for the course.

It is of utmost importance to highlight that throughout each stage of Alzheimer disease there are other symptoms and signs which are associated with the level of memory loss and also influenced by the presence of other diseases like diabetes and stroke.

Depression, anxiety, insomnia and changes in mood and behavior, withdrawal from others, oftentimes stubbornness, irritability and aggression as the person is forced to adapt to this dramatic change in their mental status.

The management and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is complex and involves close interaction of different health care providers with the affected individuals and their relatives.

Nutritional measures indicate a diet high in proteins, counseling for the affected and their relatives in the early stages of diagnosis, psychiatric and other specialist interventions as each individual case necessitates, for the treatment of other disorders previously present or which have arisen.

The use of specific drugs which have been proven to improve memory in some instances, but generally slow the rate of loss of memory and general deterioration of mental and physical state.

Street Talk

You have presented a good article about Alzheimers for many people...thanks...I have also found that aluminum is a factor and there is aluminum in foods that do not have it listed such as baking soda....also supplementing with vitamin B complex can reverse some of the symptoms....these are written about in scientific papers I have had my head radiated..I am cautious and try to keep it from being a possibility for me in later life....I pray it does not happen.

  about 9 years ago
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