What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is most common in the elderly and is a disease that has always been with us. We just didn't know that much about it, and are still learning a lot really. That combined with the fact that people are living so much longer, its only natural to find more people seeming to come down with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative syndromes and diseases. What seems a possible increase in Alzheimer's, is the level of current diagnoses. Not that long ago, many of these same types of patients would have been diagnosed with or suffering from a form of dementia or senile dementia.
Hippocampus portion of the Brain
Original Case of Alzheimer's Disease
Did you know that the original case of Alzheimer's (supposedly, and as of right now) was of a lady who was only 51 years old? She was showing signs of dementia. Dr Alois Alzheimer examined her brain after she died using the new silver staining, which was only newly available at the time. Using the silver stain, he was able to demonstrate the two key microscopic features that are seen with Alzheimer's patients. These are senile plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles.
The senile plaques are associated with deposit of an abnormal protein called beta amyloid. These proteins or plaques are in the brain, but not in the neurons or brain cells themselves. As of now, this is still thought to be a key thing to be occurring in the causing of Alzheimer's.
The neurofibrillary tangles are known now, to be a different protein, and located within the brain cells. The name of the protein is called tau. This is a microtubele-associated protein. To maintain a healthy brain, you need microtubules which are the building blocks of the internal skeleton of the cells there. Microtubules help to maintain the integrity of the cells, and the amazing complex wiring of the brain cells. What we see happening, is that the tau loses its function over time (for whatever reasons, which they are trying to find out now). Then the cells become unstable, and then we see the breakdown we do. The neurofibrillary tangles we see, are the breakdown and collapsing effect over time.
Amyloid Plaques and more
Learing more over time
The more they learned about Alzheimer's disease, the more they realized some people had been diagnosed incorrectly with senile dementia. Many people in the United Kingdom in the 60's, were really suffering from Alzheimer's.
Some symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
The Alzheimer's patient will have impaired episodic memory, which is the memory we use for day to day events. In fact, that is the key clinical feature of the disease. For instance, a patient may struggle to recall what happened to them. They may forget to do things. Some might misplace things. Some might ask the same questions over and over. As the disease progresses on, they may get lost. We all may experience some of these symptoms from time to time, and they also can be explained by other things as well very often. However, in this case, it steadily gets worse over time.
Once a few years pass, the person may have increased difficulties with their perception of the world around them, and with their speech. When you see this, you tell the hippocampus is being affected, as well as other parts of the temporal lobe.
Amyloid Plaques, shown by staining
Basic Overview of Alzheimers, some facts
While some of these "facts" may change over time as more is learned about Alzheimer's, these are some things to know about the disease. It helps families to know what is going on during such a hard time in someone's life. Some of this is review of the above information.
Alzheimer's Disease is common in the elderly. The problems start in the brain in the medial temporal area, or in the hippocampus part of the brain. Later, it spreads to other parts. There is loss of nerve cells, and a presence of amyloid plaques, and tau tangles. You will see it begin with the loss of memory here and there. There will likely also be a loss of being able to learn new information. A person with Alzheimer's may struggle to orient themselves to the exact time and place they are. Sometimes, personality or behavior problems can develop, but there is also help for these things as doctors continue to learn so much. In later stages, some may experience a form of hallucinations or delusions.
There is so much more that can be said, but this gives an idea for now. There are some things we can do now, to prevent the disease in ourselves, and some great new medicines on the market and vitamins. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and look up a local Alzheimer's chapter in your area for support. Find good doctors that really seem to care and want to learn and be up on the latest research. We are in the thick of it in my own family, so my heart goes out to all going through this. We learned recently my dad does not have dementia alone, but Alzheimer's in particular, very likely. He is in the later stages, but thankfully is very happy and remembers us for now. I think he is on some great medicines and seems to have a real peace about everything and has kept his sense of humor. We do see the decline and he is only 66 years old. Other than this, he is very healthy! He will likely lose his life to this as of now, unless things change quickly.
I hope that all that can be done in the area of research is being done so that people don't have to go through this as much in the future.