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Alzheimer's Disease

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Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative brain disease, is the most common cause of dementia. It is the fourth leading cause of death among the elderly in developed nations. 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.

Learning about Alzheimer's disease and recognizing that it is much more that just a loss of memory can help the families of those with the disorder as well as society as a whole. At the turn of the century, two kinds of dementia were defined by Emil Kraepin: senile and presenile. Alois Alzheimer was of German origin who worked as a professor of Psychology in Breslau. Together with Franz Nissl they established the pathologic anatomy of mental illness. Alzheimer published several commentaries on cerebro arteriosclerosis in 1904 and on Huntington's chorea early in 1911. 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), protein deposits and abnormal filaments in nerve cells in her brain ‑‑ three common features of those who have Alzheimer's Disease. Scientists today are describing other abnormal 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.

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. Social withdrawal often occurs as the individual begins to become aware that there is something wrong. Speech problems and difficulty with comprehension may also appear. It can be 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 prominent. Persons 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 person's personality will likely change to some degree.

In the final stage of dementia, there are substantial 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 fall apart.

As of yet, there are no known causes that can be concretely linked to Alzheimer's disease. To cause difficulties, 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 closely and often cannot be distinguished from one another through ordinary and on the surface testing. The primary differentiated dementia diseases often include losses of muscular control. The secondary dementia diseases are not due to a permanent impairment of the brain and can often be cured, so accurate diagnosis is vital.

Low‑pressure‑hydrocephalus or '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 improved considerably. It is caused by an excess 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. Research is also being conducted in an attempt to correlate the deterioration of the individual's cognitive functions and psychiatric phenomenon. According to one group of researchers, patients with dementia and major depression also showed a low level of a certain enzyme in the brain. Also, there was a higher neuron count in a portion of the brain. Thus,



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