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What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

By Gray Rollins

Alzheimer's is a devastating disease that robs individuals of their memories, ability to recognize their loved ones or even to complete simple tasks for themselves, but there are treatments available to help slow the course of Alzheimer's disease and researchers are working hard to find a cure.

Alzheimer's disease is considered a condition of the elderly affecting mostly those over the age of 65. While there are so called early onset cases that occur in younger adults they are rare. 23,000 people die each year in the United States from Alzheimer's disease. It is the leading cause of dementia, making it the eighth leading cause of death among older Americans. Though there is currently no cure for the condition, understanding the progress of the disease can help researchers, care-giving family members and those afflicted.

The disease is hallmarked by atrophy, or shrinking, of the cortical tissues in the brain. In people with Alzheimer's disease nerve cells become bunched together forming tangled webs of brain tissue filaments (neurofibrillary tangles) and near these tangles patches of cellular debris, called senile plaques, are found. Plaques are made up of dead cells and proteins. It is believed that these brain abnormalities cause a disruption of the electrical impulses in the brain. As more and more tangles and plaques collect in the brain the body receives fewer and fewer messages from it and the person's ability to function deteriorates.

According to Elder Rage author and radio host Jacqueline Marcell the warning signs of the affliction include: memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality and loss of initiative. "You don't need to have a doctorate degree to know something is wrong, Ms. Marcell writes in her blog, "but you do need a doctor who can diagnose and treat (Alzheimer's) properly."

Right now the aim of treatment is to slow or mask the cognitive deterioration caused by the disease and to increase the brains ability to think, recognize, perceive and judge. Treatment is also helpful in reducing the behavioral problems associated with the more advanced stages of the disease. The side effects for the most commonly used medications: Aricept, Cognex, Exelon and Namenda can include nausea and vomiting, liver damage, psychiatric disturbances, weight loss, tremor, sore muscles, fatigue, dizziness and urinary tract problems. Razadyne is the exception; though there are risks for nausea and vomiting and a few other problematic symptoms, no serious side effects have been reported.

Some treatments work better than others and differently for different patients, so every patient needs to have their symptoms and treatment responses reevaluated frequently. Flexible, supervised care from a knowledgeable physician is of paramount importance.

Alzheimer's disease isn't curable but there are treatments that can slow its progress and promising research that may one day lead to a cure. Understanding the stages of the disease and its progression can help those who are afflicted, their loved ones and researchers ensure the best treatment now and promote hope for the future.

About The Author
Gray Rollins is a featured writer for ForAlzheimers.

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