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Alzheimers Disease

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Alzheimers Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a slowly progressive, degenerative disorder of the brain that eventually results in abnormal brain function and death. The disease was first described in 1907 by a German physician, Dr. Alois Alzheimer(1864-1915). In the neurological autopsy on the brain of a 56-year-old woman Auguste D., of Frankfurt, who died after several years of progressive mental deterioration marked by increasing confusion and memory loss. Taking advantage of a then-new staining technique, he noticed an odd disorganization of the nerve cells in her cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and memory. The cells were bunched up like a rope tied in knots. He termed the strange nerve bundles neurofibrillary tangles. He also noted an unexpected accumulation of cellular debris around the affected nerves, which he termed senile plaques. In a medical journal article published in 1905, Alzheimer speculated that the nerve tangles and plaques were responsible for the women's dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is a disorder marked by a gradual decline in brain function that gets worse with time. It used to be assumed that this change was a normal part of aging that we called senility. Some people develop this condition when they are as young as 40 years of age. However, the disease is most common in persons over the age of 65. It is estimated that approximately 10 percent of persons over 65 years of age may have Alzheimer's disease and that in persons over the age of 85, up to 50 percent may be affected. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of the aging process. It is not contagious, and it is not known how it can be prevented. While the physical changes in the brain are very similar among different people the behavioral and psychological symptoms that result are complex and may differ from person to person(Kawas, 80). These symptoms lead to a form of dementia which is the loss of mental skills and abilities, including self-care capabilities. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, these losses will result in total dependency for even the simplest activities(Erickson, 149).

Alzheimer's disease usually comprises of three stages. The first being the onset stage. The symptoms of the onset stage often appear very gradually. There may be some minimum memory loss, particularly of recent events. The individual may experience difficulty in finding the right words to use during casual conversations. Work performance may begin to deteriorate and changes in behavior may start to become obvious. These changes may last for a period of up to five years(Campbell).

The second stage, the progressive stage contain the same symptoms noted in the onset stage but are now more obvious. There may be distinct problems with language abilities(aphasia), which is typically the most obvious sign of movement towards this stage. Persons affected may have difficulty naming objects(agnosia), or with maintaining a logical conversation. They may also have difficulty understanding directions or instructions. They often become easily disoriented with regards to what day it is, where they are, and who they are with. Confusion and the resulting frustration are often evident. Memory losses become even more pronounced. They may also begin to experience loss of self-care skills(apraxia), including the ability to use the toilet. Severe changes in personality may begin to become obvious, and their social behavior may be marked by suspiciousness(paranoia) and delusions. These changes may last for up to about twelve years(Campbell).

In the third stage, the terminal stage persons affected now experience substantial dysfunction. Basic skills such as eating or drinking are forgotten. Because of eating problems, many persons may experience a substantial loss of body weight, up to 20-30 percent(Lewis, 49). They may eventually lose their ability to maintain balance and walk. Their ability to recognize other persons and their environment is gone. Both long- and short-term memories are lost. At this stage, persons affected require complete 24-hour care and often become bedridden and inactive(Lewis, 49). Because of this, they are at increased risk for ant infection, especially pneumonia, and consequently are far more likely to die. These changes, leading to death, may last for three of more years(Campbell).

The genetic mechanisms of familial Alzheimer's remain largely unexplained, but a few genetic mutations have been identified that greatly increase risk in some families. Research has focused on specific abnormalities of genes on chromosomes 1, 14, and 21. The mutation involving chromosome 21 causes Down syndrome. Instead of having a pair of this chromosome, people with Down syndrome are born with three. Down causes a characteristic physical appearance, and a particular form of mental retardation(Flieger, 18). Until fairly recently, people with this condition usually died in their 30s, but today, ...

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