Psychology / Alzheimer'S Disease

Alzheimer'S Disease

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Autor:  anton  22 September 2010
Tags:  Alzheimers,  Disease
Words: 1608   |   Pages: 7
Views: 303

The disease called Alzheimer’s is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States (Weiner, 1987). It is estimated that the elderly population will double between now and 2030. During this period, the number of elderly will grow by an average of 2.8% annually (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). By 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is estimated to range from 11.3 million to 16 million (Alzheimer’s Association, 2005). These startling numbers should prompt an examination into one of the leading causes of death among this group of people. Understanding what Alzheimer’s is and the known causes of the disease are a good starting point. For those who have aging family members, knowing the risk factors and warning signs of Alzheimer’s can be beneficial to both the patient and his family. Finally, once the patient has been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s, a plan for treatment as well as providing the family and caregivers with a support system can help ease those involved through a very challenging, heartbreaking time.

The Alzheimer’s Association (2005) defines the disease as “a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate, and carry out daily activities”. Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s is not the result of normal aging, although it normally occurs more frequently in people who are over the age of 65 (Gruetzner, 1988). Studies performed on the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients show several irregularities. The most obvious abnormality is in the signal-transmitting chemicals, where a 40-90% decrease in the enzyme CAT is found. This enzyme lies in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain. When CAT is decreased, it causes cholinergic or acetylcholine-releasing nerve terminals to diminish. These chemicals are important for communication between nerves. Also found during these autopsies were double strands of neurofibullary tangles, senile plaque (decayed neural material), and granulovacular degeneration-all which are associated with mental impairment. Neurofibullary tangles normally do increase with age, but Alzheimer’s patients show a very high density of the tangles. The brain has also been found to contain abnormally high concentrations of aluminum (Weiner, 1987).

While much is known about the end results of Alzheimer’s, little is known about the causes of the illness. There are many theories as to possible causes, such as viruses, bacteria, toxic metals, malfunction of the immune system, and inherited genes. However, no one of these explanations alone can explain the disease in full, and none of these theories have been proven (Weiner, 1987). Scientists do know, however, that whatever triggers Alzheimer’s disease begins to damage the brain years before the symptoms appear. Once symptoms do show themselves, the nerve cells that process, store and retrieve information have already begun to die (Alzheimer’s Association, 2005).

Alzheimer’s disease is incurable, but there are many stages, warning signs, and risk factors that can serve as detection devices for those who have older adults in their lives. One of the most common early signs of this form of dementia is memory loss. While it is normal for people to occasionally forget things, such as appointments and names, people with Alzheimer’s tend to forget these things more often and are not able to recall them even after a period of time. Other signs that signify a possible case of Alzheimer’s is difficulty performing familiar tasks (cooking, brushing teeth), problems with language (using odd words, failing to remember correct words), disorientation (forgetting where one lives, not knowing how he got to a certain place), problems with abstract thinking (forgetting what numbers represent), misplacing items (putting a hair brush in the freezer), moodiness, personality changes (confusion, suspicion, fearfulness), and loss of initiative (passiveness) (Alzheimer’s Association, 2005).

When all or many of these indications are present and a person has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, there are presently 7 stages of which can be expected through the ordeal of this illness. The first two stages are early onset Alzheimer’s and show very little or no impairment. The small lapses in memory are not enough to alert family and friends that there is a potential problem. During stage 3, those closest to the patient begin to notice deficiencies. At stage 4, a careful medical interview can clearly detect the symptoms as that of Alzheimer’s. Stages 5 and 6 signify mid-stage Alzheimer’s. Major gaps in memory and problems in functioning occur. During the final stage, the patient begins to lose the ability to respond to the environment, speak, and control movement. Swallowing is impaired, muscles grow rigid, and the inevitable becomes a reality (Alzheimer’s Association, 2005).

There are many known risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, but just like the possible causes of the disease, there is no one factor that is known for certain to indicate acquiring the illness. Scientists and researchers do know, however, that the greatest known risk factors are increased age and a family history of the disease. Basically, the chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s doubles every 5 years after the age of 65. As far as family genetics is concerned, scientists have discovered one gene that increases the risk for late onset Alzheimer’s. Individuals who inherit this gene are certain to also inherit the illness. Newest evidence shows that other factors affect the risk of Alzheimer’s-general healthy aging, controlling blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels, exercise, staying socially active, and avoiding high concentrations of aluminum (Alzheimer’s Association, 2005).

For a person experiencing Alzheimer’s, there is no current drug that can altar the loss of cells. Treatments and therapies used can only help minimize or stabilize the symptoms. The two drugs that are being used to treat the cognitive symptoms are designed to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. These drugs work to keep the levels of the chemical messenger high, even as the cells die. Vitamin E is often prescribed because it has been shown that it may help brain cells defend themselves (Gruetzner, 1988). Because many behavioral problems are associated with Alzheimer’s, it is important to be able to manage these symptoms. Agitation, the most common symptom, can be treated with both behavioral interventions and medications. Identifying what triggers the agitation is imperative. Only then can behavioral intervention take place. Medications are most effective when used in combination with behavioral intervention. Alternative treatments also play a part in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. While herbal remedies and dietary supplements can be valid for treatments, there are concerns regarding their use. Possible bad reactions, unknown effectiveness, and safety have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doubting its validity. Some patients claim that supplements such as Coenzyme Q10, Ginko biloba, Huperzine A, and Coral calcium are effective in controlling the symptoms of the disease. The FDA, however, warns that these alternative treatments should not be used in place of physician-prescribed therapy (Alzheimer’s Association, 2005).

As dreadful as Alzheimer’s is to the patient, it is even more devastating for the caregivers and family members. For these people, juggling the demands of their jobs and families while meeting the needs of an Alzheimer’s patient is overwhelming. They become emotionally burnt out as they watch someone once so close to them retreat into a shell with no hope of return. While taking care of the patient is priority, all resources geared towards supporting the caregiver stress the importance of getting outside help in order to give the caregiver a break. Some options include asking family or friends for help, contacting agencies for aging people, and consulting adult daycare agencies. The caregiver, his or her children, and other family members dealing with Alzheimer’s may find it helpful to attend support groups or attend counseling sessions. This may not only allow the venting of frustrations and anger, but could also serve as a learning forum where others who are experiencing the same situation can share how they deal with the demands of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s (Gillick, 1998).

While at the present time little is known about the causes of Alzheimer’s and there is no existence of a cure, current research combined with the latest in technology is hopeful for a breakthrough. Not only are new drugs being developed, but also the possibility of vaccines are on the horizon. Keeping up with the latest clinical trials, findings and treatment options can be a challenge, but doing so can arm patients and caregivers with a powerful tool. Only through education and progress in research can this deadly disease become extinct.


Alzheimer’s Association. (2005). What is Alzheimer’s disease? Retrieved March 30, 2005, from

Gillick, Muriel R. (1998). Tangled minds: understanding Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. New York: Penguin Group.

Gruetzner, Howard. (1988). Alzheimer’s: a caregiver’s guide and source book. New York: Stephen Kipper.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2001). Sixty-five plus in the United States. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from

Weiner, Michael A. (1987). Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. New York: Stein & Day.

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