March 2, 1999
Alzheimer’s disease was first described by Alois Alzheimer. Alois Alzheimer was a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist and he first described it in 1906. The disease was first thought to be a rare condition affecting only young people, and was referred to as presenite dementia.
About 10 percent of the United States population over the age of 65 is affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and up to 45 percent of those over the age of 85 may have the disease. Up to 2 million people suffer from it, or one percent of the population. During the early stages of the disease, a person forgets daily events, but they can still recall things that happened many years ago. Memory loss worsens during the later stages of the disease, when patients forget events from earlier years, patients cannot care for themselves, and some patients can become bedridden. Most patients die from infection or chronic disease 8 to 10 years after getting the disease.
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease still remains mysterious. People with a family history of the disease though, have a better chance of getting it themselves. Carriers of a specific version of the apolpoprorein E gene (apo E gene) are more likely to develop the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed by examining brain tissue under a microscope to see hallmark plaques and tangles, which is only possible after the patient dies. There are some ways that you can find out if you have the disease when you are alive, but it might not be 100 percent sure. You rule out other problems that could cause memory loss like a stroke, depression, alcoholism, and the use of certain prescription drugs. A thorough examination, which includes specialized brain scans is another way of diagnosing it. A patient could be given an evaluation called a neuro pschological examination.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment focuses on lessening symptoms and attempting to slow the course of the disease. Drugs that increase or improve the function of brain acetylcholine, and the neurotransmitter that affects memory, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help treat Alzheimer’s disease. Preliminary studies say that anti-inflammatory drugs could prevent inflammation. There is evidence that the female hormone estrogen, may prevent or slow down the course of the disease.
Coping with a loved one’s decline and inability to recognize familiar faces causes extreme pain. Caregivers go through tons of pain and develop health and psychological problems because of so much stress.
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