Alzheimer's Disease: Understanding the Complexities of the Disease

There are 5.5 million people of all ages in the U.S. who are suffering from an irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys the memory (Alzheimer’s disease, 2019). This disease has affected many young and old people throughout the last century and is continuing to grow today. As of 2019, Alzheimer’s disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States (Nierenberg, 2019). Learning about Alzheimer’s disease and realizing that it is much more than just a loss of memory can benefit the families of those with the disorder.

The Devastating Progression of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks (What is alzheimer’s disease, 2019). This form of memory loss happens to be the most common form of dementia. There are two types of this disease known as Early onset and Late onset. Early onset it when people start to occur symptoms between the ages of 30 and mid 60s (Nierenberg, 2019).

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This is very rare only affecting hundreds of thousands of people under the age of 65. Late onset is the most common type affecting 5.2 millions of people over the age of 65. Out of the 5.5 million people, two-thirds of those Americans are women who are suffering from this disease (Alzeimer’s disease, 2019). This fact still remains yet to be determined, but researchers from Stanford University studied over 8,000 people looking for a form of the gene ApoE-4, a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

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They found that women who carry a copy were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as a women without the gene (Sauer, 2019, par 6). Unlike many other forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease does not affect patients’ motor functions until the late stages of the disease. This makes it very hard for the patient and the family members when they start to realize and take action for this disease.

Alzheimer’s disease was first discovered in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer. His patient was experiencing symptoms that included memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. Once she died, he did an autopsy and examined her brain. He found many abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers (What is alzheimer’s, 2019, par. 2). His discoveries of the plaques and tangles are still some of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease. Another feature is the loss of connections between the nerve cells in the brain. Most of this connection is taking place in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain essential in forming memories. As the neurons die, other parts of the brain are also affected. By the last stage, the damage to the neurons is so widespread, and the tissue in the brain shrinks significantly (What is alzheimer’s, 2019, par. 3-4).

Coping with Alzheimer's: Risks, Prevention, and Diagnosis

There are four stages for family members to watch out for if they are suspicious of Alzheimer’s Disease. Stage one is the hardest to identify. Symptoms that may be shown include forgetfulness, short term memory loss begins to affect job performance and the individual shows less energy and spontaneity. Caregivers involved simplifying routines and ensuring a safe environment. Stage two starts to build on top of stage one. Confusion and shorten attention spans are common symptoms to watch out for. Caregivers will focus on structure and limiting choices and give frequent reminders. Stage three is when symptoms become very noticeable and this is the stage where most are suspicious of Alzheimer’s Disease. Symptoms include disorientation and involves problems with logical thinking and finding the right words. Patients start to become very irritable and their suspicion starts to increase. Also, wandering can become a major problem. Caregivers jobs become a lot more difficult. They have to incorporate reassurance and communication through tough language as comprehension decreases. Stage four is the last and the worst stage. Patients become very dependent on their caregivers because they are unable to communicate and experience increasing difficulty with eating and mobility. The patient also cannot recognize him/herself or family members and friends. Caregiving becomes a full time job (Harris, 2000, par. 8-11).

Many individuals may understand some of the symptoms that develop as Alzheimer’s progresses, but what many do not understand, is what is happening to the brain as it progresses. Before the symptoms of the first stage occur, there are already microscopic changes that are developing in the brain (Harris, 2019). The brain cells are a lot of times compared to a factory. They each have their own job they need to carry out properly and without any malfunctions. Scientists have discovered that alzheimer’s prevents different parts of the brain to carry out their function properly. They have not yet discovered where this problem starts, but they do know that as the damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs correctly and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain (What is alzheimer’s, 2019, par. 5-8). There are two structures that are causing this damage to the nerve cells. They are plaques, which are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that builds up in the spaces between the nerve cells. The other structure is called tangles and they are twisted fibers of another protein called tau that build up inside the cells (What is alzheimer's, 2019, par. 9). Scientists have not yet discovered what role both of these structures play in the disease, but many experts think they somehow play a role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disruptions processes that cells need to live. As many people age, they develop these plaques and tangles, but alzheimer’s disease makes it so those affected develop far more and starting in the areas of memory and spreading into other regions (What is alzheimer’s 2019, par. 10-11).

The causes of this disease is still unclear, but scientists do believe there are multiple risk factors that may increase the chances of developing alzheimer’s disease. The highest risk factor is the family history. Individuals whose parents or siblings have the disease have a somewhat higher chance at developing alzheimer’s. Heredity is also another big risk factor. There is one specific genetic mutation that can contribute to the development called the apolipoprotein-E. People with Down Syndrome also have a higher chance because they have three copies of the twenty-first chromosome, which can lead to developing more amyloid plaques in the brain (Nierenberg, 2019, par 15). Other risk factors could include, severe head injuries, low education levels, abnormal protein deposits in the brain and mild cognitive impairment (Alzheimer's disease, 2019, par. 7).

There are many risk factors that can contribute to getting Alzheimer’s but since this condition is not preventable, there are chances to reduce the risk of this disease. Doing activities that engage the brain are very good to keep the brain stimulated. Some of these activities may involve reading, creating art pieces, playing board games, playing an instrument, dancing, or any social events. These are all great things to do to stimulate brain activity. Other activities that can help reduce the risk, would be to keep your body healthy. Exercising regularly is great for body and also the brain. Eating a diet of fresh produce, health oils and foods low in saturated fats is also a good choice. Also, smoking can cause nerve cells to die and that could be a cause in why brain cells are dying. Another smart choice to make would be to follow treatment guidelines to manage high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol (Clinic Staff, 2019, par. 41).

Although many might follow these examples to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, it may not always work. There are still many cases out there where people have done everything they could to help reduce the risk, but still end up with Alzheimer’s. Many of those times, people were not even aware their loved ones had developed this disease because there is no exact test to help diagnose a patient with Alzheimer’s. Doctors do many examines in order to figure out if the patient does have this disease. They first start by examining the patient for signs of strokes, tumors, thyroid disorders or vitamin deficiencies because these are all factors that could also affect the memory and cognition. They also review medical history or talk to family or friends about the patient’s behavior and if there is any personality changes. They also perform physical exams including balance, muscle strength, and coordination. Along with a physical exam, they also conduct a series of memory, language, and basic math skills tests (Nierenberg, 2019, par. 16-17). After all of these tests and they need some more confirmation they may take a CT scan or an MRI to look for any abnormal activity in the brain. They might also use an electroencephalogram, which records the brain’s continuous electrical activity by means of electrodes attached to the scalp (Alzheimer’s, 2019, par. 7-8).

Although this is a disease that affects many people’s lives, there is still so much that scientists do not know about. For example, there is no treatment for this disease. Once the patient has developed Alzheimer’s, there is no way to reverse the deterioration that has already happened in the brain. There are some medications available to help assist in managing the most troubled symptoms including, depression, behavioral disturbance and sleeplessness. Scientists continue to do their best on trying to figure out more and how to prevent this disease, but it is a long progress. Right now, there are several drugs being studied in clinical trials to determine if they can slow down the progress or improve memory for a period of time, but other than that, not much more has been discovered (Alzheimer’s, 2019,par. 9-11)

As loved ones may develop this disease, there is not much more family members can do. They can make sure their loved one is as comfortable as possible and are on the right medication to make their lives as happy as they can. Making sure they are in a calm and well-structured environment is important because patients with Alzhiemr’s become irritated very easily. Physical exercise, social activity, proper nutrition, and proper health maintenance is also a good thing to enquire in their lives (Alzheimer’s, 2019,12). But the best thing for anyone suffering with Alzheimer’s disease is to love them and spend quality time with them because once diagnosed with this disease, there is nothing that can be done at this point in time, to reverse all the damage that has already been done.

Updated: Jan 25, 2024
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Alzheimer's Disease: Understanding the Complexities of the Disease. (2024, Jan 25). Retrieved from

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