Lost Minds A Study of Alzheimers Disease

Alzheimers Disease is one of the most common diseases among elderly people today.  Alzheimers creates emotional and financial catastrophe for many American families every year.  It affects nearly 4 million people in the United States.  Alzheimers Disease is the fourth leading cause of adult death in the United States, and nearly 90 billion dollars go towards Alzheimers research each year, most of this money is funded largely by Medicare and Medicaid, but the government funds some (Medical).  Many elderly people are thought to be crazy, people think the strain of their lives has been too much for their minds, when in fact the real problem may be a serious condition called Alzheimers.

Alzheimers Disease is a degenerative brain disease.  It is caused by a slow break down of the brain cells. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, first discovered Alzheimers Disease in 1906.  The first recorded case of Alzheimers Disease was a 55-year-old woman.  She was admitted to the mental asylum where Alzheimer worked when she was 51 and slowly deteriorated over her 4 years there.  After her death, Alzheimer performed an autopsy in which he found a small, shrunken brain. This was the start of Alzheimers research.  Since its discovery, Alzheimers Disease hasnt evolved much. Its much more common now and the symptoms are slightly enhanced, but the disease is relatively the same. The number of people with Alzheimers Disease is expected to increase dramatically as the baby boomers age (Davis).

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Some scientists believe that Alzheimers Disease may be caused by a mutation of a gene on chromosome 14, this mutation is related to about 8% of all Alzheimers cases (Alzheimers).  Alzheimers patients also have an excess of aluminum in their brain tissues, which is linked to the disease and they lack hootropic agents, the chemicals that protect the brain cells.

The early stages of the disease are often viewed as the consequences of aging, so Alzheimers often goes unrecognized. There are several stages to Alzheimers Disease.  In the early stages people forget recent events, but they clearly remember things that happened many years ago.  In the later stages of the disease, people can no longer remember past events and often do not recognize their family members. Some victims do not even recognize themselves. Alzheimers victims often suffer from impaired judgement. They may touch a hot stove burner not remembering that it can burn them. There have been cases where people with Alzheimers Disease nearly starve because they forget to eat for days.  When my Great Grandma, who had Alzheimers, was left alone, she would drive from her home in Meade to Hugoton or Satanta trying to find Liberal.

The disease can also cause people to be very tired.  Patients may also have trouble with place and time.  They may not recognize their own home of many years, and they may confuse morning with afternoon.  Some patients with Alzheimers Disease will revert back to an almost child-like state.  Some of the victims are very angry and aggressive while others are very calm and quiet.  How fast the disease advances varies from person to person. Eventually, most people with Alzheimers disease become unable to care for themselves.  Alzheimers Disease is not the direct cause of the victims deaths.  The disease renders the patients bedridden and in their weakened condition they catch viruses such as pneumonia.

Alzheimers attacks few people after age 60, but occurs in 20% of people who live to age 85 (Gillick). Alzheimers does not occur more in men or woman, but the disease is more prone to Caucasian people.  Out of all the cases of Alzheimers in the United States, about three-fourths or three million of them are white people.  Scientists do not know why this is, because black peoples brain cells are the same as those of white people (Gillick).

Some scientists say that Alzheimers Disease is genetic, and it may be.  Scientists say that if the disease is genetic, then it only occurs in every 4th or 5th generation, but that the disease must be turned on by some outside factor.  Doctors cant seem to figure out what the outside factor is.  Some scientists even believe that Alzheimers may be caused by an excess of estrogen in the brain (Gillick).

Alzheimers Disease is considered non-reversible. Many of the symptoms can be treated, but not the actual disease. To date, no chronic degenerative disease, Alzheimers or others, can be cured. Most therapies currently being used are experimental (Medical). The drugs Tacrine and Donepezil are the only two drugs proven effective in slowing the progress of Alzheimers Disease, and even they dont have a vast effect. Selegilin, the drug used to treat Parkinsons Disease, has been shown to delay symptoms of Alzheimers by about seven months in test cases, but doctors are not sure if it is safe for people yet (Davis). Some doctors suggest for people to take one ibuprofen a day, to help lower the risk of developing Alzheimers Disease. Daily supplements of vitamin E can help too. Thanks to medical breakthroughs and healthier lifestyles, Alzheimers patients can live longer then ever.

There are no screening tests for Alzheimers Disease. In fact, brain tumors, blood clots, hypothyroidism and vitamin deficiencies have all been mistaken for Alzheimers. The reason for these mix-ups is that a head scan can not show Alzheimers Disease until well in to the disease. If the tumors or clots are small enough they might not be seen either and can produce nearly the same results (Alzheimers).

Alzheimers disease is a serious and growing medical, social and economic problem. It affects millions of people in the United States and millions more around the world.  When we look at elderly people and cast them off as crazy or senile we should stop and consider the root of their problems.  We know more about the disease now then at any other time in history. Doctors are closer to a cure then ever, but until there is a cure for Alzheimers Disease, we are all at risk.

Bibliography:

Alzheimers Disease. World Book Encyclopedia. 1998 ed.

Davis, Patti. Long Good-Bye. Ladies Home Journal. Nov. 1997: 170-175.

Gillick, Muriel R. Tangled Minds.  New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Medical Self-Care. Retrieved 4/13/99.
http://www.healthy.net/library/articles/ahper/alzheim2.htm.

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