What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Overview

Published: 02/07/2012

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When you receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease for yourself or a loved one your first best step will be to learn all that you can about the disease. At the Senior Care Society we understand that this is very unsettling news to receive, hence we have provided a series of articles here to help you get a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and how you can be as prepared as possible for managing it.

 

A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF ALZHEIMER’S

The statistics vary, but current estimates suggest that there are about 5.1 million Americans afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The number of people with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow significantly in the coming years as the U.S. population continues to age and the population trends continue on their expected track.

Alzheimer’s disease was named after the physician Alois Alzheimer in 1906 after Dr. Alzheimer recognized noticeable changes in the brain of a patient who had died of an unusual mental disorder. The woman prior to death had suffered from memory loss, language difficulty, aggressive, unpredictable and unusual behaviors. Upon her death and through autopsy of her brain it was noted that her brain had amyloid plaques (unusual clumps) and neurofibrillary tangles, which would later become two of the main characteristics featured in Alzheimer’s disease. The third characteristic is the loss of the connections between nerve cells.

 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia found primarily in people over age 60, it is a progressive, irreversible disease of the brain which as time progresses destroys parts of the brain thus affecting memory and thinking properties. Persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s will begin with symptoms that may be ignored or seen as forgetfulness due to aging, but which will worsen with time and make even the simplest of daily tasks unmanageable.

Much research and continuing studies have brought some encouraging information and breakthroughs in prevention and early diagnosis, but although treatment can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s to date there is no cure for this life stealing disease.

Today we still are uncertain how the disease begins its process, but it is believed that the damage to the brain occurs approximately a decade or more prior to signature symptoms beginning to appear.

 

It is during this preclinical (undiagnosed) stage of the disease that toxic changes in the brain are occurring; abnormal deposits of proteins have begun to form these signature amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles all throughout the brain and the neurons begin to be affected.

 

As time progresses so does the disease and the neurons begin to lose their ability to function and slowly to die. During this progression of the disease it spreads to other nearby areas of the brain essential to memory, the hippocampus, causing the same destruction, and as the affected areas of the brain are thus attacked they too begin to wither and die.

 

In the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease there is widespread damage to the brain and the actual brain tissue has shrunk significantly, thus leaving the tell tale markers of Alzheimer’s disease postmortem. *brain scans can detect the Alzheimer’s markers during the course of the disease*

 

Senior Care Society is proud to have joined with the Alzheimer's Association as a member of the Alzheimer's Early Detection Alliance.  As a member we are committed to educating everyone about the warning signs of Alzheimer's and the importance of early detection.