What is Alzheimer’s disease?
German neurologist Dr. Alois Alzheimer first identified this neurological disorder in 1906 while studying the pathology of a woman he had treated for an unusual mental illness.
While examining his brain after his death, Alzheimer noticed marked changes in the brain tissue and found many abnormal clumps (amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (neurofibrillar, or tau, tangles). These plaques and tangles in the brain are still considered the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and are still necessary for a pathological diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia worldwide. Dementia is a term used to describe a global malfunction of the brain and describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills.
Changes in the brain cause memory loss and changes in the affected person’s behavior and personality. There are more than 400 types of dementia, which affects all three areas of the brain: language, memory and decision-making.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s, and about 1 in 9 age 65 and older have the disease. As the number of elderly Americans grows rapidly, so will the number of Alzheimer’s cases.
By 2050, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s could increase to a projected 12.7 million, without the development of medical advances to prevent, slow or cure Alzheimer’s disease.
Age is the biggest known risk factor for the disease. Researchers also believe that family history may play a role in the development of the disease.
In addition, ongoing studies are investigating whether education, diet, and environment play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and there is growing scientific evidence that healthy behaviors, which have been shown to prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, they can also reduce the risk. for subjective cognitive decline.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss that disrupts daily life; challenges with problem-solving skills; difficulty in performing family tasks; disorientation with time and place; difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships; language challenges; misplacing things and not being able to find them; judgment reduction; social withdrawal; and mood or personality changes.
Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time, and on average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live up to 20 years, depending on other factors.
Medicines can temporarily improve or slow the progression of symptoms. These treatments can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s disease maximize function and maintain independence for a while. Different programs and services can help support people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, schedule an appointment with a health care provider. Additional resources and support can be found at alz.org or locally at alzbr.org.
Other dementias will be reviewed in future columns.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, author of “What My Grandchildren Taught Me About Alzheimer’s Disease,” at firstname.lastname@example.org.