Alzheimer’s disease information can be as confusing as the disease itself. This article will bring clarity and focus to this disease. In your skull is a 3 pound wonder that has 100 billion neurons sending each other electrical and chemical signals in an orchestrated pattern that creates memories and allows for learning. At about the age of 30, our brains begin to shrink by about a half a percent per year. We usually don’t notice this change for years but over time this shrinkage, combined with other factors, begins to weaken the signals inside our brain. This leads to memory loss which is normal for most people as they age.
What is not normal is for this orchestrated electrical and chemical signaling pattern to become so dysfunctional that it leads to dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. The sad reality is the number keeps growing each and every year.
Number One Health Fear!
Currently, the number one health fear of the Baby Boomer population is Alzheimer’s disease. At one time it was heart disease and then cancer. Now it is the loss of cognitive memory. And for good reason since many cancers are curable and Alzheimer’s is not. According to the most recent Alzheimer’s disease information, one in seven Americans age 71 or older has some type of dementia. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease since it accounts for 70 percent.
Even with the current Alzheimer’s disease information, many scientists believe that there is no reliable way to identify who is at risk. Researchers believe that the accumulation of two proteins in the brain likely damage and ultimately destroy nerve cells that are linked to learning and memory. How and why these two proteins are created is the mystery.
Alzheimer’s disease was first described in 1906 by a German physician named Alois Alzheimer. His patient was a 51 year-old woman who was first brought to his attention in 1901. She had developed all the characteristics of this disease and died in the Spring of 1906. Upon her death, Dr. Alzheimer received permission from the family to perform an autopsy on her brain. The autopsy found dramatic shrinkage of her brain. The majority of the shrinkage was in the cortex or outer layer of the brain which is involved in memory, thinking, judgment, and speech. Under the microscope, Dr. Alzheimer found fatty deposits in most of the small blood vessels, dead and dying brain cells, and some type of abnormal deposits in and around the brain cells.
Although research on this type of brain disorder started back in the early 1900s, most of the Alzheimer’s disease information has been obtained over the last 20 years.
Over the last 20 years there has been a rapid increase in the number of people with this disease. The following Alzheimer’s disease information applies to all with this health problem:
Although there are no know quantitative numbers, I would say that 80 to 90 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases are preventable. Just as the National Stroke Association has found that 80% of stokes are preventable. And, just as the American Cancer Association has found that 90 to 95% of all cancers are either lifestyle, environmentally and/or food induced, the same will eventually be shown for dementia diseases.
It is estimated that your brain has 100 billion nerve cells or neurons. Each nerve cell communicates with many other neurons to form networks. These networks of neurons have special jobs. Some networks help us to see, hear, smell, move, and breathe. Some are involved in thinking, learning and remembering.
Every network of neurons is like a tiny factory that needs resources, generates energy, performs a function, and eliminates waste. To keep everything running in a coordinated operation requires large amounts of nutrients and oxygen. It is important to note that with the need for a large amount of oxygen, there is a tremendous potential for the production of free radicals!
The Alzheimer’s disease information shows that parts of these nerve cell networks begin to malfunction. Although scientists are not sure exactly where the trouble starts there are many potential causes for the breakdown:
Tangles and Plaques
No, this is not the latest dance craze from Dancing with the Stars. In the world of Alzheimer’s disease information, tangles and plaques are abnormal structures that form in the nerve networks and are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells. Plaques typically build up between nerve cells. They contain a protein fragment called beta-amyloid. Tangles form inside dying cells. They are twisted fibers of another protein called tau. These plaques and tangles seem to form in a defined pattern that usually starts in the learning and memory areas of the brain and then spread to other regions of the brain.
Although we do not know the role that plaques and tangles play in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, scientists suspect that these abnormal proteins interfere with the communication process among nerve cells and nerve networks. They also seem to disrupt cell activities that are necessary to maintain healthy cells.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
The Alzheimer’s disease information lists four different stages or classifications for this disease. They are:
Young-Onset – This refers to individuals who have developed Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia prior to the age of 65. They may be in any one of the following stages of dementia. Experts estimate that approximately 500,000 people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are in this classification.
Early-Stage – This is the early stage when memory, thinking and concentration problems begin to appear. By the time most people are diagnosed with dementia, they are usually past this stage. The reason why? There is no current accurate medical test to determine early stage so it is often overlooked at just the normal process of aging. Individuals in this early stage need minimal assistance with their normal living routines.
Middle-Stage – At this stage there are problems in abstract thinking and intellectual functions. These problems can show up in a person’s ability to work with figures, understand what they read, and organize their day’s work. Behavioral disturbances such as agitation, irritability, quarrelsomeness, and a diminishing ability to dress appropriately may show up.
Late-Stage - At this stage disorientation is the norm. Individuals are confused about where they live, who they are related to, and what time of the year it is. Patients may wander, be unable to maintain a conversation, become uncooperative and moody, and may lose bladder and bowel control. A patient’s ability to care for themselves is lost and they become entirely dependent upon others for their care. Death can follow and it is usually from some other illness like heart disease or pneumonia.
It is important to understand that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It is not something that is inevitable in a person’s life. In reviewing the Alzheimer’s disease information for this article, the following risk factors were listed. They are:
Currently, there is no specific “blood test” or imaging test that is used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. It should also be noted that the side effects of medication, especially in elderly patients, can cause cognitive impairment. The most frequent offenders are drugs to control bladder urgency and incontinence, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, and anti-seizure medications.
It is important to note that thyroid dysfunction, some steroid disorders, and deficiencies in vitamin B12 or thiamine are sometimes associated with cognitive impairment. In all the Alzheimer’s disease information I found ‘lifestyle’ was not listed as a potential risk factor for this disease. This author believes that lifestyle should be the number one risk factor!
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed the following ten warning signs. Individuals who exhibit several of these signs should see a physician for a comprehensive evaluation.
It is normal for people over 50 years of age to have a loss of memory. On standardized memory tests individuals over 50 will recall 40% less than individuals 20 years of age.
Prognosis and Cure
The Alzheimer’s disease information consistently shows that this disease progresses over a 2 to 25 year range with most patients in the 8 to 15 year range. Most don’t die directly from the disease but from a complication resulting from the disease. Currently, there is no known cure for a person who has this disease. There are both medication based and non-medication based treatment programs to manage the symptoms and possibly slow down cognitive decline.
Several pharmaceutical drugs have been approved by the FDA for treatment of this disease. All have side effects and should be thoroughly explained by your physician and/or pharmacist. The non-medication treatments typically do not have side effects but could potentially interfere with current medications so you should again consult with a qualified medical professional.
It is my opinion that the cure to Alzheimer’s disease is in PREVENTION! Although there is no quantitative numbers, it is the author’s opinion that the medical community will eventually come to realize that 80 to 90 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented by certain lifestyle changes. This isn’t to say that research shouldn’t be done to find a cure for those with Alzheimer’s and for those in the future who develop Alzheimer’s. But, we’ve got to see that lifestyle choices, especially in the foods we choose to eat, have a great impact on our health, wellness, and how we age.
Listed below are two articles that will explore this whole concept of prevention. These two articles are designed to take the current Alzheimer’s disease information and combine it with options that clearly demonstrate improved brain health and function to develop a working plan of action.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. As a convenience, I’ve also included links to the following articles on Alzheimer’s disease:
The information contained in this website and posted articles are for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam. The information contained in this website and posted articles has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.