Alzheimer's disease

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Alzheimer's disease is named after Alois Alzheimer, a German neurologist who first discovered it. Alzheimer's disease is a brain disease which affects the behaviour, memory and cognitive ability of sufferers and is also considered to be a geriatric disease[1]. It is the most common cause of dementia with over half a million people thought to have it[2].

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease. In its common form, it is usually found in patients over the age of 60 who manifest the symptoms[3].

Symptoms include problems with cognitive function from the lines of emotional behaviour, judgement, language and perception[3]. The biochemistry of the disease shows that it is due to polypeptide accumulation in areas of the brain which in turn cause atrophy[4]. Mutations in the gene APP cause an increased production of the insoluble polypeptide Beta-Amyloid[5]. The mutation occurs when the amino acid valine is replaced with isoleucine at position 717[5].

Contents

Causes

There are no known causes of Alzheimer's. However, it is characterised by the following;

Risk Factors

Scientists believe Alzheimer's is caused by a combination of factors, which include;

Signs and Symptoms

The general signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include:

However, it must be noted that these signs and symptoms do not constitute conclusive evidence that one suffers from Alzheimer's disease[9]. Anyone who has any of these symbols is strongly advised to see a doctor for proper diagnosis.

Stages

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease which means that the severity of the condition increases gradually up to the point where it severly intefers with daily life tasks[2]. There are generally three stages of development of Alzheimer's disease; mild, moderate and severe[10]. These can be subdivided into seven stages which range from :

Stage 1 : No Impairement

Stage 2 : Very Mild Decline

This stage consists of minor problems in memory, however, not to the extent where it is noticeable by a physician or a loved one.

Stage 3 : Mild Decline

In this stage, physicians will now able to detect a problem in memory as performance on memory and cognitive tests is affected.

Stage 4 : Moderate Decline

In this stage, symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are very apparent. This will also start to affect short-term memory.

Stage 5 : Moderately Severe Decline

During the fifth stage, daily tasks become difficult, and patients will require an increasing amount of help, however, they are still able to maintain a modicum of functionality.

Stage 6 : Severe Decline

Constant supervision is required in the sixth stage. Loss of bladder and bowel movements, major personality changes and the inability of recognizing loved ones are common symptoms.

Stage 7 : Very Severe Decline

In the seventh stage of the disease, patients lose the ability to respond to their environment or communicate. As Alzheimer's is a terminal disease, this is the last stage of the disease.

Maintenance

As there is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, however, sufferers can be managed in the following ways;

Treatment

At present, there are no known treatments for Alzheimer's. However, there are known methods used to help to delay the progression of symptoms into the later stages of the disease. This enables sufferers to maintain a more active, independent life for longer which will also benefit their family and friends. However, there are ethical concerns of whether prolonging the life of an Alzheimer's sufferer, especially in the later stages of the disease, is the right thing to do. The scientific evidence suggests that once diagnosed, sufferers usually only live for 8-10 years. Plus the knowledge that the patient is still suffering for longer periods of time leads us to wonder if it is the right thing to do to prolong the middle stages of the disease through preventative treatments, which do not in any way cure the disease but aim to manage it, preventing worsening of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain.

References

  1. Alzheimer’s Association (2011). Alzheimers Disease. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_alzheimers_disease.asp.Last visited [29.11.2011]
  2. Alzheimer's Society. What is Alzheimer's Disease? https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=100
  3. 3.0 3.1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001767/
  4. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Causes.aspx
  5. 5.0 5.1 http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/APP
  6. Dale, M. Rang, HP (2012) Rang and Dale's Pharmacology, 7th edition, New York, Churchill Livingstone (p481 - 482)
  7. Causes of Alzheimer's Disease. Munoz and Feldman (2000)found at: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/162/1/65.short accessed 20/10/15
  8. http://www.nature.com/articles/srep15015#discussion
  9. Alzheimer’s Disease International (2010) Early Symptoms http://www.alz.co.uk/alzheimers/symptoms.html. Last viewed [29.11.2011]
  10. National Health Service (2010) Alzheimer’s Disease- Symptoms. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Alzheimers-disease/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. Last viewed [29.11.2011]
  11. Rosini M, Simoni E, Milelli A, Minarini A, Melchiorre C., (13 Oct 16), J Med Chem., Oxidative stress in Alzheimer's disease: are we connecting the dots.
  12. https://www.caring.com/articles/slowing-alzheimers-progress
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