What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's is a degenerative progressive brain disease that impairs memory, language, thought, judgment and behavior.
Dementia refers to a condition where cognitive or memory impairment is severe enough to affect daily life, but it does not identify the underlying cause. Thus, not all dementia is Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is "not just old age," it can strike in the forties or fifties.
Proteins are one of the principle building blocks of the human body. Neurotransmitters are proteins. When proteins abnormally accumulate due to abnormal biochemical processes or overproduced, or not cleared properly, Alzheimer's is the result with amyloid plaque that starts accumulating in the brain. The abnormal amyloid, called beta-amyloid protein, is very sticky and clumps together, is not easily removed or dissolved. As the plaque accumulates in the brain, it interferes with the normal neurotransmitter processing of brain cells.
Other features of the Alzheimer's-affected brain: atrophy [shrinkage], loss of brain cells, loss of nerve connections, accumulation of proteins [neurofibrillary tangles] impairment of signaling within brain cells, loss of brain chemicals [neurotransmitters], loss of cellular self-maintenance abilities, and persistent inflammation.
The Progression of Alzheimer's: Three Stages
Early Stage: Mild Cognitive Impairment is often mistaken for normal aging - persons have trouble recalling new information and remembering words. They repeat themselves, forget appointments, phone calls, conversations, misplace objects, have trouble driving, and have difficulty managing finances, cooking, and housekeeping, and exhibit signs of depression and anxiety. Unless glaringly obvious, many in this first stage do not get the medical attention they need.
Treatment Medication in early stage - donepezil (Aricept) and read about Vitamin B Complex + additional B12 to protect the brain.
Intermediate Stage: Moderate Cognitive Impairment, the impact on daily living is more pervasive. A person's language skills regress by substituting words they cannot remember, lose their ability to identify objects or family members by name, have trouble following conversations and recognizing people, become agitated or paranoid, and may develop delusions. As the day progresses they get increasingly confused [sundowning]. Symptoms are anxiety, agitation, depression, loss of interest in favorite activities, and often sleep is disturbed.
Treatment Medication in intermediate stage - donepezil (Aricept); rivastgmine (Exelon); galantamine (Rezadyne); tacrine (Cognex) all of which are known as cholineterase inhibitors because they slow down the breakdown of acetylcholine, the neurochemical in the brain that is responsible for memory.
Late Stage: Advanced and Severe Cognitive Impairment, the person's memories, both short and long term, are severely impaired, and often fail to recognize loved ones or remember major parts of their life. Speech suffers, at times incomprehensible, and frequently demonstrate extreme agitation that manifests as physical violence. Be careful! They have no understanding that anything is wrong with them and often lose control of bladder and bowels. Movement is stiff, they lose the ability to walk or sit upright, forget to eat, or even chew and swallow food.
Treatment Medication in late stage - memantine (Namenda) a NMDA receptor antagonist, meaning it protects brain cells from becoming overexcited, which is related to the overproduction of a brain chemical called glutamate. When there is an excess of glutamate, the brain cells take in too much calcium, causing them to die.
It is important to understand that these stages and their devastating symptoms differ markedly from the normal aging process.
Stopping the clock on Alzheimer's before the fact is of crucial importance, because once a patient has been diagnosed, it is impossible to reverse the damage to the brain as there is no known cure for Alzheimer's Disease at this time.
The best protection is to take charge of your health now, and reap the benefits for the rest of your life. "Treat your brain right while it's still healthy and you will extend the life of your mind and body for many years to come."Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, MD Geriatric Neurologist.
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