Sunday, December 11, 2005

Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease
The term Alzheimer's disease in everyday language has come to designate nearly every variety of mental problem experienced by older people. The disease itself, however, with its typically associated deterioration of the organic structure of the brain, can at present be diagnosed with certainty only following an autopsy after death. Among the organic features of the brain in Alzheimer's disease (often referred to medically as "AD") are: senile plaques, rather like clots of nerve cells in the brain, neurofibrillary tangles, and granulovacuolar degeneration of the neurons in the cerebral cortex (the surface of the brain).
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of organic brain syndrome (OBS), but it is not the exclusive cause, nor is senility a normal consequence of aging. It is estimated that 15 percent of the older population may have mental health problems but that only from 4 to 6 percent of the population over 65 suffers from OBS. Of this proportion, 10 to 20 percent of the cases can be treated and reversed. Mental problems often attributed to Alzheimer's disease may be due to misuse of medications, alcohol abuse, and functional psychological disorders that can be treated by psychiatric interventions. The speed of mental response does seem to slow with age, and the proportion of persons with OBS does reach over 20 percent after age 85, but senility is not the norm even in late life---close to 80 percent do not experience mental problems.
The cause of Alzheimer's disease today is unknown in spite of several promising avenues of research currently underway. Some researchers have discovered a "slow virus" infection whose clinical picture mimics Alzheimer's disease. Once this virus is isolated it is felt that a vaccine can be developed. The autoimmune theory speculates that, due to the progressive aging of brain neurons, a pseudo-foreign body response is triggered in the immune system. The incidence of Alzheimer's disease is somewhat increased in families that have a history of a familial occurrence. Researchers have found diminished levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and increased levels of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, which supports a chemical imbalance theory. Presently, however, there is no vaccine or cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are deterioration of social skills, progressive memory loss, decline in the ability to perform routine tasks, impaired judgment, confusion, disorientation, personality change, speech and communication defects, difficulty in learning and retaining information, belligerence, and incontinence. In many cases, the disease will progress to the point that its victims are totally incapable of caring for themselves.
Even though the person's thought process is impaired, his or her senses are still functioning well. Brightly colored objects may be visually stimulating, music may have a calming effect, and foods and fragrances that have been the person's favorites will still be enjoyed. Touch and eye contact give the person a sense of well-being.
There is at present no treatment for Alzheimer's disease comparable to antibiotics used against bacterial infections. A major step forward in the treatment of the disease, however, occurred when it was recognized that mental decline is not a normal consequence of aging; that it can be treated; and that interventions by means of care are as important as medical cures. Current treatments for AD and other mental disorders stress behavioral approaches. They include such alternatives as close supervision most often provided by placing the affected individual in a nursing home, giving respite help to relieve stress on family members caring for the AD victim, and training of AD patients to deal with the impaired state of their memory. While no one can predict how rapidly researchers will succeed in finding the causes, treatment, and a cure for AD, it is notable that the National Institute on Aging has targeted the disease for a major research effort, and that progress so far has caused much enthusiasm and hope. People who need to know more about AD and other mental disorders can contact such organizations as that named below, as well as relying on physicians and other professional resources.
For more information, write or call:
Alzheimers Society National Headquarters
70 E. Lake Street
Chicago, IL, 60601
(312) 853-3060
Kelly, W. E. Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders. Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas Co., 1984.
Reisberg, B., ed. Alzheimer's Disease: The Standard Reference. New York: The Free Press, 1983.

Alzheimer's disease, treatment The progressive deterioration of brain cells is inevitably fatal in Alzheimer's disease. There are treatments that ease the burden on the person and family. These treatments for Alzheimer's disease include reality orientation, tactile contact, maintaining and maximizing current functional abilities with physical exercise and social activity, and tranquilizers. Tranquilizers can lessen agitation, anxiety, and unpredictable behavior, improve sleep patterns, and help create a calm and pleasant environment.
Current functional abilities with physical exercise and social activity should be continued as much as possible. It is important to keep the environment safe around people with Alzheimer's. Medicines, cleaning supplies, sharp knives, and tools should be kept out of reach. Rugs need to be secured to prevent sliding and tripping and handrails should be installed.
AD victims can remain independent longer when living in familiar surroundings. Furniture and cupboards, for instance, should be consistent. Keeping doors locked will prevent the person from wandering outside alone and getting lost.
The transition from a totally independent person to one of dependence can be a trying time. Unusual situations should be handled in a quiet calm manner so that the person with Alzheimer's keeps his or her respect and as much independence as possible.
Powell, L. S., and Courtice, K. Alzheimer's Disease. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1983.


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