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Alzheimers Disease

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An Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease

Hannah Heady

Murray State University

An Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease

As the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a slow progressing, degenerative disorder of the brain that eventually results in abnormal brain function and death (Liang et al, 2016, p.2). According to the alz.org website, there are over 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer Association, 2018). Considering when the majority of diagnoses are made, approximately one-in-six people over the age of 65 are living with AD.  Although the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases directly with age, the disease is not a normal part of the aging process. Memory loss, difficulty focusing, and confusion are some of the numerous symptoms of AD. Diagnosis of AD is no easy task and cannot be definitively confirmed without an autopsy after the death of a patient.

It has been over 100 years since the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease was first described in 1907 by a German physician, Dr. Alois Alzheimer. Dr. Alzheimer noticed the changes in 56-year-old women and studied her to determine the causes for the personality and mental deteriorations. Her most noticeable symptoms were confusion and memory loss. After her death he performed a neurological autopsy on the brain. Using a new staining technique, the doctor noticed an abnormal disorganization of the nerve cells in the patient’s cerebral cortex (Khachaturian and Radebaugh, 1997, p24). The cerebral cortex is part of the brain responsible for information processing and memory (Li et al, 2018, p. 2). He described the abnormality as bunched up like a rope tied in knots; naming the strange nerve bundles neurofibrillary tangles. He also noted an unexpected accumulation of cellular debris around the affected nerves, which he termed senile plaques. Once he made the connections, he concluded that the nerve bundles and plaque were the causes of her debilitating disease. His work was published in a medical journal and thus named the form of dementia after himself, Alzheimer disease. Following his discovery, over 100 years later, there still is not a diagnostic test for the disease.

Often, Alzheimer’s is confused with normal aging, thus going undiagnosed. There are many signs of AD; some of the early signs include

  • Memory loss,
  • Challenges in problem solving,
  • Difficulty completing simple tasks,
  • Confusion, and
  • Withdrawing/changes in personality, among several others (Khachaturian and Radebaugh, 1997, p.57).

Most of the physiological signs of Alzheimer’s are fairly relative. Each person presents the disease differently and therefore all diagnoses are ambiguous. Other than an autopsy, after death, there is no test for determining if one has developed AD. While a person is living, the only way to determine if they are living with AD is through a series of testing. Medical imaging, patient history, and physical and mental examination can be used in combination for determining a determination of Alzheimer’s. Through the testing process a physician rules out other, more definitive medical, issues in order to consider the possibility of someone having AD.  Utilizing different mental and physical testing a doctor can determine with 90% accuracy if someone is or is not living with Alzheimer’s (Beach et al, 2012, p. 273). “Every 65 SECONDS SOMEONE IN THE UNITED STATES DEVELOPS THE DISEASE (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018).”

        The typical Alzheimer patient is female rather than male. Women make up 67% of AD patients. Those that are African American are twice as likely as their white counterpart to have Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018). As mentioned before, the patient is usually over 65 years of age.

        In Kentucky, AD is the sixth leading cause of death, killing 1694 people in 2015 (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018). In 2018, there were approximately 71000 diagnosed with AD in the state that were over 65 years old. Based on these numbers and the rapid increase in diagnoses, that will increase by almost 22%, bringing the total to 86000 Alzheimer patients in Kentucky (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018).

        “A history of AD in a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) increases the odds of developing AD three- to fourfold (Khachaturian and Radebaugh, 1997, p13).” Although one cannot control their genetics, as that is predetermined at conception. There are several factors that can be controlled that contribute to the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. A person’s age, history of head trauma and genetic predisposition all increase the chances of getting AD (Khachaturian and Radebaugh, 1997, p24). As a man or woman ages their chances increase exponentially. All three risk factors are directly proportional to the development. As they increase so do the chances of Alzheimer’s. In spite of these, there are some factors that decrease the chances of Alzheimer’s. One of those being education, the more years of education a person has correlates to their chances of getting AD. Overall health contributes to the risk; things such as diet and exercise are always important and help prevent development of diseases (Khachaturian and Radebaugh, 1997, p14).  

        Alzheimer’s is typically considered a geriatric disease, meaning that it pertains only to the elderly. While that is true, there is also ‘early onset Alzheimer’s’ which is for those that start showing symptoms earlier than 65 years of age. The probability of being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s is only about five percent (Graff-Radford, 2017).

        The cost of taking care of a patient with Alzheimer’s is also on the rise with the many new cases being diagnosed. AD patients have twice as many hospital stays; because of this healthcare for an average patient with AD is over $300,000 (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018). The care of a patient not only affects the healthcare system but also their families. With the high number of cases, it is likely that every family in America has been directly affected by Alzheimer’s. When a loved one begins to show symptoms, it causes somewhat of a chaotic environment within the family. They have to begin thinking about emotional, physical, and economical arrangements. Not everyone is capable of caring for a loved one with a debilitating disease, so they must consider other options such as assisted living, home health, nursing home, etc.

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