Alzheimer's disease - Can I help?
By Charles Hopkins
Published 11/27/2007 | Health
Alzheimers disease is a brain disorder that causes memory loss,
personality and behavior changes, and a decline in thinking ability.
Alzheimers affects 5% of people over 65 and 20% of people over 80 and
is the most common cause of dementia. About 4 million people in the
United States suffer from Alzheimer's. Promising research continues to
provide hope to reduce the risk of developing this crippling disease.
The victims of Alzheimer's disease often have difficulty performing
familiar tasks, such as preparing a meal, opening a car window, using a
household appliance, remembering words, and sometimes have difficulties
with language or perception of reality. This can affect work, lifelong
hobbies, social and family life, and the disease worsens over time.
The most common form of dementia among older people is Alzheimer's
disease (aka AD or cognitive decline), which initially involves the
parts of the brain that are vital to memory and other mental abilities,
and connections between nerve cells are disrupted. Some of the
chemicals in the brain that carry messages back and forth between nerve
cells become reduced.
Scientists are now able to pinpoint possible targets in the brain
for treatment and are finding that damage to parts of the brain
involved in memory, such as the hippocampus, can sometimes be seen on
brain scans before symptoms of the disease occur.
Sometimes other problems such as thyroid problems, drug reactions,
depression, brain tumors, and blood vessel disease in the brain can
cause AD-like symptoms.
This can be hard for both sufferers and caregivers and can affect
their physical and mental health, family life, job and finances.
Although some cholesterol is needed for healthy cells, too much
cholesterol can block arteries and lead to heart attacks and other
problems such as Alzheimers. Proteins appear to become locked up in
these cholesterol deposits.
Doctors use several tools to diagnose "probable" AD such as asking
questions about the person's general health, past medical problems, and
ability to carry out daily activities, tests of memory which include
counting, problem solving, attention, and language, and other tests on
blood, urine, spinal fluid, and brain scans.
A clinical trial is examining whether vitamin E and / or selenium
supplements can prevent AD, and additional studies are ongoing or being
planned on patients with mild to moderate AD on other antioxidants,
including a study of the antioxidant treatments such as vitamins E, C,
alpha-lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q.
Treatment nowadays can include any or all of the following:
Cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs), partial glutamate antagonists,
non-medication based treatments, and treatment of psychiatric symptoms.
Caring for people who care for people with Alzheimers is now also
considered to be important for the AD sufferer as well.
If Alzheimers is the diagnosis, treatment should be started as soon
as possible so that the person with the disease can be involved as soon
as possible in treatment decisions and planning for the future.