What is Alzheimer's Disease and what is Dementia and how do they relate to one another?
According to the Wikipedia explanation, "dementia is a is a serious loss of global cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging. .Dementia is not a single disease, but a non-specific syndrome (i.e., set of signs and symptoms). Affected cognitive areas can be memory, attention, language, and problem solving".
The National Institutes of Health; National Institute on Aging, describes Alzheimer's Disease this way:
"Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear after age 60. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease".
Finally, the Alzheimer's Association, defines dementia "a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia". Below you will find a photo of a normal human brain and a human brain in advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. (This photo is courtesy of the Alzheimer's Association)
|Photos of Healthy Human Brain and Human Brain with Advanced Alzheimer\s Disease|
Cures and Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease/Alzheimer's Related Dementia
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease and for an absolute, 100 percent diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease, this can only be determined after death. Alzheimer's Disease and/or Alzheimer's related dementia are not a part of the normal aging process.(Source: Alzheimer's Association) Currently, at the age of 65, 1 in 8 Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's related dementia. At age 85, 1 in 2 Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's related dementia, therefore this mind robbing and "grimey" disease is a national health emergency, especially given the fact that a whole generation of baby boomers, may be at risk of developing or contracting this disease. (Source: Alzheimer's Association Caregivers Focus Group - New York)
There is a national plan to address Alzheimer's Disease, including a goal of the effective prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's Disease by the year 2025. This includes ensuring the safety, dignity and quality of life for the Alzheimer's care recipients and the health and well being of the Alzheimer's caregiver.
According to a story by npr.org today, deaths from Alzheimer's disease have increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010 and Alzheimer's Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. "It's an epidemic, it's on the rise, and currently [there is] no way to delay it, prevent it or cure it," says Maria Carrillo, a neuroscientist with the Alzheimer's Association. More than 5 million people in the U.S. have the disease, she says, and that number could reach nearly 14 million by 2050
Before one can discuss the treatment or cure of Alzheimer's Disease, a comprehensive examination must be made by a medical doctor, which in most cases will be a neurologist who will determine if the dementia type is Alzheimer's related dementia. One of the latest methods or tools in use to aid in the proper diagnosis of Alzheimer's related dementia is the PET scan. Amyloid brain plaque is considered one hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. A PET scan is used to determine if amyloid brain plaque is present in the brain of the scanned patient. The presence of amyloid brain plaque by itself is not enough to determine that Alzheimer's Disease is present. Other factors such as clinical examination, environmental factors and the patients history must be looked at as well.
Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York has taken the lead in performing the first Alzheimer's related PET scan in New York State in 2012. How it works is simple: A binding agent is introduced into the brain which specifically adheres to amyloid brain plaque. The PET or CT scanner, will take images of the brain with this binding agent present showing the areas of the brain where the amyloid brain plaque is present. The suspected Alzheimer's disease patient is placed in the CT scanner, which will take a series of powerful xrays, using an x-ray generator embedded in the CT scanner, which will produce the desired 3 dimensional images of the brain.
|PET/CT Scanner Images of Human Brains in Normal, Mild Impairment and Alzheimer's Disease states|
Another premier medical facility in New York is the Taub Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center , which is one of 15 National Institutes of Health sponsored research sites in the nation for Alzheimer's Disease. Research is conducted to elucidate the underlying causes, genetic factors, diagnosis, progression, and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The main source of up to date types of treatments of Alzheimer related dementia is the Alzheimer's Association, which when this link is clicked will send the reader to the treatments page of the Alzheimer's Associations' website.
What types of research is going on with Alzheimer's Disease or Alzheimer's related Dementia?
One of the most exciting areas of research into Alzheimer's Disease is at MIT. A group of neuro-scientists are using a game to help them map the neural transmitters in the human brain through the use of a video game. This game is called Eyewire which uses part artificial intelligence and part human interaction to map each neuron of which 100 billion exist in the human brain. It takes a neuro-scientist at MIT 15 - 80 hours to map a single neuron, which at that pace would take 570 million years to map the human brain, so volunteers are needed to play this game. Each time the game is played, the AI part of the game learns more about mapping on its own, so there is indeed light at the end of this tunnel.
There are currently hundreds of research trials going on around the country to help in diagnosis, treatment and hopefully cure for Alzheimer's disease. If one visits the Alzheimer's Association website, there are links to clinical trials for the Alzheimer's patient, the caregiver and and unaffected person.
There are beliefs and thoughts that returning veterans from both the Iraq and Afghan war theatres, may be more predisposed to developing Alzheimer's related dementia. The human body can withstand a certain amount of punishment and on the battlefield, the human brain is exposed to concussive blows from explosions, which mimic or are in actuality blows to the head. When enough minor concussive blows are experienced, this may cause long term brain injury unseen by regular clinical diagnoses, only to re-appear in later life in the form of Alzheimer's related dementia.
There is so much more information and this writer does not profess to know it all about Alzheimer's disease or dementia. In the next article, we shall discuss the role of the Alzheimer's Disease caregiver, resources for the caregiver and tools that might be helpful for the caregiver to manage his/her life and that of the person he is providing care to.