Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive mental illness characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and decreased brain mass. This disease, of which very little is known, affects more than five million Americans.

Alzheimer’s disease is usually linked to memory loss. Most people have occasional memory lapses, which increase with age, but it doesn’t have to necessarily be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The problems of memory linked to this disease use to be, not only more frequent, but they interfere with safe or competent daily functioning, such as forgetting important appointments or leaving home without being properly dressed. Alzheimer’s disease usually carries a decrease of cognitive abilities like planning a schedule or even cooking a meal. Mood changes, agitations, social withdrawal and feelings of confusion are also linked to this illness, which can affect or slow one’s gait as well.

Currently, Alzheimer’s disease affects more than five million Americans. Credit:

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown for the majority of the cases; less than 5 percent of cases are related to specific, rare gene mutations. In most of the cases, this disease starts showing after the age of 65. The risk increases as the older one gets.

Heart and vascular problems, including stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure and even depression are health issues that appear to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

People with one copy of the ApoE4 gene variant have two to four times as much risk of developing Alzheimer’s. People with two copies of the risk of developing Alzheimer’s have nearly 10 times the risk. This risk seems to be larger in women. The ones with ApoE4 have a greater chance of developing symptoms at a younger age.

Diagnose, prevention and treatment 

To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease a series of assessments, including memory and cognitive tests are needed. Clinicians apply a medical workup to determinate whether the thinking and memory problems can be explained by other diagnoses like another type of dementia, a physical illness or side effects from a medication.

Can Alzheimer’s be prevented? There’s no clear answer, but there are some hints that point out to exercise, healthy diet, social activities and educational activities to keep dementia at bay for some time. These activities are all big promoters of overall brain and body health, as well as emotional well-being.

To treat Alzheimer there are available five drugs to either slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine or block the overproduction of glutamate in the brain. Unfortunately, none has worked very well for very long. The search for a treatment for this illness hasn’t stopped. Clinical trials are underway, including large trials testing anti-amyloid drugs at early stages, but several years remain before solid results are known.

Source: NY Times