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Autor: anton • March 17, 2011 • 2,364 Words (10 Pages) • 507 Views
This is a 8 page, 10 resource paper discussing Alzheimer's disease, discussing the history, symptoms, diagnosis and hopes for a cure of the disease.
Alzheimer's Disease: Not Just Loss of Memory
Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative brain disease, is the most common cause of dementia. It currently afflicts about 4 million Americans and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Furthermore, Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of mental impairment in elderly people and accounts for a large percentage of admissions to assisted living homes, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities. Psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, have been reported in a large proportion of patients with this disease. In fact, it is the presence of these psychotic symptoms can lead to early institutionalization (Bassiony, et all, 2000).
Learning about Alzheimer's disease and realizing that it is much more that just a loss of memory can benefit the families of those with the disorder as well as society as a whole. The purpose of this paper is to look at the disorder, as well as to discuss the history, symptoms, diagnosis and hopes of a cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Around the turn of the century, two kinds of dementia were defined by Emil Kraepin: senile and presenile. The presenile form was described more in detail by Alois Alzheimer as a progressive deterioration of intellect, memory and orientation. As a neuropathologist, Alzheimer studied the case a 51 year-old woman. When she died, Alzheimer performed an autopsy and found that she had "cerebral atrophy" (deterioration of the brain), "senile plaques" (protein deposits) and "neurofibrillary tangles" (abnormal filaments in nerve cells) in her brain -- three common pathological features of those who have Alzheimer's Disease (Ramanathan, 1997).
Today, as research on Alzheimer's disease progresses, scientists are describing other abnormal anatomical and chemical changes associated with the disease. These include nerve cell degeneration in the brain's nucleus and reduced levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brains of Alzheimer's disease victims (Alzheimer's Disease). However, from a practical standpoint, conducting an autopsy of an individual to make a definitive diagnosis is rather ineffective. Newer diagnostic techniques will be discussed in a later section of this paper.
The progression of Alzheimer's disease is classified into three phases: forgetfulness, confusional, and dementia. The forgetfulness phase is the first stage and is characterized by a loss of short-term memory. Patients in this phase will often have trouble remembering names of well-known people and will misplace items on a regular basis. This stage also may include behavioral changes. Additionally, a loss of spontaneity and social withdrawal often occurs as the individual begins to become aware that there is something inherently wrong. Speech problems and difficulty with comprehension may also appear. Cleary, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish an Alzheimer's patient from normal everyday people or people with other disorders.
In the confusional stage, the cognitive deterioration is more noticeable and memory loss is much more pronounced. Individuals in this stage will often have trouble recognizing where they are or remembering the date and day of the week. Poor judgment is also a noticeable trait at this state and the individual's personality will likely change to some degree as well.
In the final stage of dementia, there are profound losses of memory and mental abilities. Patients will often not recognize their spouse or children or be able to read with comprehension. Eventually, individuals will become bedridden as brain functions disintegrate (Ramanathan 1997).
As of yet, there are no known causes that can be concretely linked to Alzheimer's disease. To further complicate matters, there are a number of diseases that have symptoms in common with the dementia associated with Alzheimer's. Understanding the different types of dementia-related illnesses is important when trying to diagnose a patient with these kinds of symptoms. Doctors separate the dementia illnesses into three groups: primary undifferentiated dementia, primary differentiated dementia and secondary dementia.
Primary undifferentiated dementia diseases produce the dementia by direct effects on the brain, such as those seen in Alzheimer's. They resemble each other quite closely and often cannot be distinguished from one another through ordinary diagnostic means. The primary differentiated dementia diseases often include losses of muscular control and thus they can be separated from the previous group. Most of these diseases are rare. The secondary dementia diseases are not due to a permanent impairment of the brain and can often be cured, so accurate diagnosis is critical. Therefore, one can see how the three types can cause diagnosis problems for people in the medical field (Heston and White 1983).
For example, Pick's disease is so similar Alzheimer's that distinguishing the two in living patients is almost impossible. Like Alzheimer's patients, those with Pick's disease show signs of neurofilament masses and disarray in the neurotubules. However, there is a syndrome that is seen more in Pick's patients than any other patient, which can aid in the diagnosis of the illness. This is a disease of the brain center and the individual often shows signs of severe overeating, hypersexuality and euphoric disposition. Pick's patients often show signs in their early fifties and nearly all die within eight years of the onset of the illness (Ibid).
Low-pressure-hydrocephalus or Ð''water on the brain' is one illness of the primary differentiable type. If this disease can be properly diagnosed, it can be treated and, in most cases, the symptoms are relieved or greatly improved. It is caused by an overabundance of cerebral fluid on the brain, which must be relieved surgically. Huntington's disease is another differentiable type, but it, as of yet, has no cure. Patients who have this disease exhibit involuntary writhing movements that are distinctive to this disorder. Finally, viral diseases, Parkinson's disease and Wilson's disease, among others, can also be causes of primary dementia similar to that seen in Alzheimer's patients (Ibid).