The Facts About Alzheimer’s Disease

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The Facts About Alzheimer's Disease


"Alzheimer's Disease" is the term used to describe a
dementing disorder marked by certain brain changes, regardless of the age of
onset. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of ageing - - and it is not
something that inevitable happens in later life. Rather, it is one of the
dementing disorders, a group of brain diseases that lead to the loss of
mental and physical functions. The disorder, whole cause is unknown, affects
a small but significant percentage of older Americans. A very small minority
of Alzheimer's patients are under 50 years of age. However, most are over 65.

Alzheimer's disease is the exception, rather than the rule, in old age.
Only 5 to 6 percent of older people are afflicted by Alzheimer's disease or a
related dementia - - but this means approximately 3 to 4 million Americans
have one of these debilitating disorders. Research indicates that 1 percent
of the population aged 65-75 has severe dementia, increasing to 7 percent of
those aged 75-85 and to 25 percent of those 85 or older. As out population
ages and the number of Alzheimer's patients increases, costs of care will
rise as well.

Although Alzheimer's disease is not yet curable or reversible, there
are ways to alleviate symptoms and suffering and to assist families. And not
every person with this illness must necessarily move to a nursing home. Many
thousands of patients - - especially those in the early stages of the disease
- - are cared for by their families in the community. Indeed, one of the most
important aspects of medical management is family education and family
support services. When, or whether, to transfer a patient to a nursing home
is a decision to be carefully considered by the family.

The onset of Alzheimer's disease is usually very slow and gradual,
seldom occurring before age 65. Over time, however, it follows a
progressively more serious course. Among the symptoms that typically develop,
none is unique to Alzheimer's disease at its various stages. It is therefore
essential for suspicious changes to be thoroughly evaluated before they
become inappropriately or negligently labelled Alzheimer's disease.

Problems of memory, particularly recent or short-term memory, are
common early in the course of the disease. For example, the individual may,
on repeated occasions, forget to turn off the iron or may not recall which of
the morning's medicines were taken. Mild personality changes, such as less
spontaneity or a sense of apathy and a tendency to withdraw from social
interactions, may occur early in the illness. As the disease progresses,
problems in abstract thinking or in intellectual functioning develop.

You may notice the individual beginning to have trouble with figures
when working on bills, with understanding what is being read, or with
organising the days work. Further disturbances in behaviour and appearance
may also be seen at this point, such as agitation, irritability,
quarrelsomeness, and diminishing ability to dress appropriately.

The average course of the disease from the time it is recognised to
death is about 6 to 8 years, but it may range from under 2 years to over 20
years. Those who develop the disorder later in life may die from other
illnesses (such as heart disease) before Alzheimer's disease reaches its
final and most serious stage.

The reaction of an individual to the illness and the way he or she
copes with it also varies and may depend on such factors as lifelong
personality patterns and the nature and severity of the stress in the
immediate environment.

As research on Alzheimer's disease continues, scientists are now
describing other abnormal chemical changes associated with the disease. These
include nerve cell degeneration in certain areas of the brain. Also, defects
in certain blood vessels supplying blood to the brain have been studied as a possible
contributing factor.

There is no way at the present time to determine who may get
Alzheimer's disease. The main risk factor for the disease is increased age.
The rates of the disease increase markedly with advancing age, with 25
percent of people over 85 suffering from Alzheimer's or other sever dementia.

Other things often noticeable may be depression, severe uneasiness, and
paranoia or delusions that accompany or result from the disease, but they can
often be alleviated by appropriate treatments.

Alzheimer's disease has emerged as one of the great mysteries in modern
day medicine, with a growing number of clues but still no answers as to its
cause. Researchers have come up with a number of theories about the cause of
this disease but so far the mystery remains unresolved.

Because of the many other disorders that are often confused with
Alzheimer's disease, a comprehensive clinical evaluation is essential to
arrive at a correct diagnosis of any symptoms that look similar to those of
Alzheimer's disease. In most cases, the family physician can be consulted
about the best way to get the necessary examinations.

Stress on the family can take a toll on both the patient and the care
giver alike. Care givers are usually family members - - either spouses or
children - - and usually wives and daughters. As time passes and the burden
mounts, it not only places the mental health of family care givers at risk.
It also diminishes their ability to provide care to the diseased patient.
Hence, assistance to the family as a whole must be considered.

As the disease progresses, families experience increasing anxiety and
pain at seeing unsettling changes in a loved one, and they commonly feel
guilt over not being able to do enough. The prevalence of reactive depression
among family members in this situation is disturbingly high - - care givers
are chronically stressed and are much more likely to suffer from depression
than the average person. If care givers have been forced to retire from
positions outside the home. They feel progressively more isolated and no
longer productive members of society.

The likelihood, intensity, and duration of depression among care givers
can all be lowered through available interventions. For example, to the
extent that family members can offer emotional support to each other and
perhaps seek professional consultation, they will be better prepared to help
their loved one manage the illness and to recognise the limits of what they
themselves can reasonably do.

Though Alzheimer's disease cannot at present be cured, reversed, or
stopped in its progression, much can be done to help both the patient and the
family live through the course of the illness with greater dignity and less
discomfort. Toward this goal, appropriate clinical interventions and
community services should be vigorously sought. While Alzheimer's disease
remains a mystery, with its cause and cure not yet found, there is
considerable excitement and hope about new findings that are unfolding in
numerous research settings. The connecting pieces to the puzzle called
Alzheimer's disease continue to be found.

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