Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia which affects brain function.
The disease process causes the degeneration of brain cells and nerve fibres and leads to an imbalance of the brain’s neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages to, within and from the brain). Alzheimer’s disease was first described by Alois Alzheimer in 1907 from whom it takes its name.
Alois Alzheimer: German neuropathologist and psychiatrist, born in Bavaria 1864 and died 1915.
Alzheimer was a professor of Psychology in Breslau. Later in Munich his interest in histopathology was fuelled by his collaboration with Franz Nissal and, together, they established the neuropathology of mental illness. It is his monumental work on Alzheimer’s disease for which he will always be remembered.
The cellular degeneration which occurs does not affect all areas of the brain uniformly but specific areas – known as the hippocampus, amygdala and specific regions of the cortex – that control intelligent thought, learning and memory.
As brain cells within these areas of the brain die, dementia gradually develops. It is an insidious disease with the degenerative processes occurring many years before the individual becomes symptomatic.
The hippocampus, parietal and temporal lobes are areas of primary neuro-degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease.
There are several different forms of dementia with Alzheimer’s being the most common – accounting for up to 55% of cases. Other forms of dementia include Vascular dementia (20%), Lewy body dementia (15%) and other forms of dementia (10%). While it is estimated that over 800,000 individuals in the UK suffer from dementia at any one time, of these about 450,000 will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. In Europe more than 5.4 million people and around 5.3 million people in the U.S., are suffering from this progressive disease, most of whom are over the age of 65. The causes of other forms of dementia are likely to be different from those which lead to a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 55% of all dementias.
The causes of Alzheimer's tend to vary from case to case. The most common risk factor for developing the disease is old age. Other risk factors include genetic mutations that can lead to early-onset Alzheimer's and a common gene that can be passed down that can lead to late-onset Alzheimer's.
- First identified: 1906
- Discovered by: Alois Alzheimer
- Risk factors: Old age, genetics
- Symptoms: Memory loss, confusion, behavioral changes
- Treatment: Incurable. Medications can treat the symtoms
Some early symptoms of Alzeimer's Disease include short term memory loss and disorientation. This can be accompanied by the patient having trouble performing day to day tasks, making plans, speaking, and experiencing mood swings. Motivation can also decrease in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
In the later stages of the disease, a patient might become paranoid, start hallucinating, or may be completely unable to communicate with others. They may also be unable to recognize family members and friends, and loose the ability to walk.
Although Alzheimer's is incurable, there are ways to manage the disease if it is diagnosed early. There are a few types of medications available that can treat some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's like memory loss and behavioral problems.
A patient can also get involved in various clinical trials or take antidepressants in order to curb mood swings. It is also important to make the patient's home safe, and it's sometimes necessary to place them in an inpatient care facility, if they are in the later stages of the disease.
Research is still being done in terms of how to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's and new medications are being developed each year.
These are just a few of the facts in the 2010 report for Alzheimer’s Disease:
- As many as 5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s
- Alzheimer's and dementia triple health care costs for Americans ages 65 and older
- Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s
- Alzheimer's is the seventh-leading cause of death.
- African Americans and Hispanic people have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's sometime in their life
- The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.