Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. It affects approximately 6,000 Alaskans and 5.4 million people nationwide. It attacks the brain and over time causes serious mental and physical decline, eventually leading to death. Currently there is no cure to prevent or treat AD however great strides have been made in recent years to better understand the disease and develop a cure.
The disease is typically associated with memory loss but symptoms also include a loss of language, balance and thinking abilities as well as changes in personality and behavior. These changes happen over time and symptoms come on gradually — a diagnosis for an individual does not mean they need to stop living.
The disease was first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Since then, researchers have developed a deeper understanding of the changes in the brain (plaques and tangles) and behavioral changes that characterize the disease. It is still unknown what causes Alzheimer’s in the majority of cases; however, risk factors include age, overall health and family history. Most people diagnosed with AD are older than 65; however, AD can occur in people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.
In Alzheimer’s a buildup of Amyloid plaques and tau-containing neurofibrillary tangles keep the brain from making connections. With AD these buildups typically start in the region of the brain that concerns memory. As the disease progresses, more blockages are formed and connections are continuously inhibited. Simultaneously, there is a decline of Acetylcholine, a chemical responsible for transmitting messages from one brain cell to the next. Eventually nerve and brain cells begin to die causing the brain itself to shrink.
Alzheimer’s Disease Statistics:
• AD is the fourth leading cause of death in adults after heart disease, cancer and stroke
• Men and women are affected almost equally.