Alzheimer’sDisease (AD) is a neurodegenerative, brain disorder characterized bythe progressive decline in cognitive function. Besides, it is thesixth prominent cause of death and has substantively amplified amongindividuals above sixty-five years, with an advanced decline inreminiscence, learning capacity, thinking and speech. Thepathophysiology of Alzheimer is interrelated to the injury and deathof neurons initiating in the hippocampus brain region that affects anindividual’s ability to carry out basic bodily functions such aswalking, swallowing and learning then atrophy affects the entirebrain. It is thought be caused by a combination of ecological andgenetic factors. Diagnosis can be done through neurologicalevaluations and examination of a patient’s family history, medicalhistory, psychiatric history as well as mental and behavioralhistory. Though there is no successful treatment for the disease,pharmacological and non-pharmacological methodologies are used totreat severity of symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease as the main form of dementia, is one of themost common diseases affecting senior people. Given that there is noavailable treatment and its progression cannot be reversed, thenumber of people affected by the disease can only increase.Statistics have put the prevalence of the disease at 6% of thepopulation aged 65 and above which translates to about 5 millionAmericans as of 2013. This figure doubles every five years for thisage group according to the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control(CDC 2016). Deaths attributed to the diseases are likely to beunderreported though the same estimates by CDC note that dementiaincluding AD is the third leading cause of death for persons aged65-85 in the US alone. The economic burden of treating the diseasefor the American economy as of 2010 stood at 159-215 billion annuallyit is expected to jump to close to 350 billion annually by 2040(ibid). Thus, AD is a serious disease that deserves better studies tounderstand it. It also calls for enhanced public awareness tofacilitate better understanding, treatment and diagnosis. This paperthus discusses the causes and risk factors associated withAlzheimer’s, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatment andprevention of Alzheimer and importance of the knowledge in humandevelopment.
Causesand Risk Factors
Previous studies indicate that like other chronic diseases,Alzheimer’s develops as a result of a combination of both geneticand ecological risk factors that trigger an abnormal biologicalprocess in the brain except rare cases of the illness resulting fromgenetic mutations (Ovsiew & Munich, 2009). Age is the outmostknown risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. According to Avilla,Hernández, and Lucas (2011), one in every nine individual withinthe age group of sixty-five and above has been diagnosed with thedisease. In addition, Children and young persons under the age ofsixty-five are at a risk of developing the disease although in manysporadic circumstances (Avilla et al., 2011).
Mild cognitive impairment is a state in which an individual has aslight but quantifiable changes in thinking capacity noticeable toboth the person and family members, yet it does not affectindividual’s aptitude to perform daily routines. People with MCIare at a more probable risk of developing Alzheimer’s than peoplewithout (Salomon, 2014). However, it is not always true that MCIleads to Alzheimer’s. In some cases, MCI reverts on its own orremain stable.
Another study presented by Massachusetts (2004, cited in Perry 2006)showed that the health of the brain is closely related to the generalwell-being of the heart and the blood vessels. On one hand, the coreensures that enough blood is pumped to the heart through the bloodvessels while the blood vessels ensure healthy functioning of thebrain by supplying it with oxygen and blood with surplus nutrients.Many factors allied with cardiovascular disorders tend to be highlylinked to Alzheimer’s including smoking, diabetes, hypertension andobesity (ibid).
Moreover, social and intellectual engagement supports brain healthreducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Remaining mentally andsocially active may help build a reserve though the exact mechanismby which the mechanism occurs is still unclear (Perry, 2006). Moreresearch is necessary to determine how social and mental engagementaffects biological procedures in reducing risk.
A different study also indicated that individuals with more years offormal education are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer compared tothose with fewer years of schooling (Ovsiew & Munich, 2009).Researchers believe that having more years in formal education builda cognitive reserve that increases the link between neurons enablingthe brain to compensate. However, other researchers believe thatdevelopment of Alzheimer’s among those with a fewer year ofeducation may be related to the lower socioeconomic status thus lessaccess to medical care (ibid).
Alzheimer’s is marked by the loss of one’s intellectual capacityand affect different people in different ways (Lu & Bludau,2011). The most initial and shared signs involve the loss of memory,which diminishes an individuals’ ability to remember currentinformation (ibid). Previous studies have established that theneurons present in the brain are responsible for forming new memoriesthough tend to die and malfunction first. Symptoms occur graduallyand become fatal as the condition progresses (Perry, 2006).
According to research, AD has three phases: preclinical, mildcognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia (Lu & Bludau, 2011).Preclinical signs of the disease can be determined by spinal fluidchemistry and brain imaging before the visible outward symptoms(Tanzi & Parson, 2001). Also, mild cognitive impairment ischaracterized by changes in thinking abilities, confusion, loss ofproblem-solving skills and mild memory changes evident enough to bemeasured and be noticed (Lu & Bludau, 2011).
Moreover, Alzheimer’s involves behavioral and cognitive symptomsthat are severely sufficient and present to weaken patient’scapability to function and lose interest in day to day lifeactivities (Salomon, 2014). Research has indicated that the symptomsof AD vary from one patient to another depending on the phase theyare in (Lu & Bludau, 2011). However, previous studies haveestablished that some symptoms are common among the AD patients. Suchsymptoms include hallucinations, depressions, delusion, andbehavioral disturbances (Lu & Bludau, 2011). Further, it has alsobeen indicated that the tendency of the symptoms to progress isfueled by the development of the disease leading to anxiety andfrustration due to inability to remember ordinary things in theirdaily life (Tanzi & Parson, 2001). As the disease advance, thepatients become more secluded from others and more dependent onothers and eventually pass away since their body can no longerregulate normal functions or fight infections (Lu & Bludau,2011).
Additionally, Changes that occur as a result of Alzheimer’s can beincreasingly difficult especially to the family members. Despite theloss of personal abilities by the victim as the disease progresses,it is important to focus on the remaining capabilities including thesense of touch and hearing and the ability to respond to emotions(Foster, 2004).
A primary care physician commonly makes Alzheimer`s disease diagnosisby obtaining patients’ family history, medical history, psychiatrichistory as well as mental and behavioral history (Parks, 2009). Theinformation can be obtained from the individual, relative or even anyclose person. Besides, a physical examination involving measuringblood pressure and other vital signs may help the physician identifyany condition that might cause or is related to Alzheimer’s. On theother hand, neurological evaluations may also assist in the diagnosisof AD it involves assessing balance, vision, reflexes, sensoryfunctions and eye movement which may help identify signs of disordersthat may affect the diagnosis (Perry, 2006). An electroencephalogramis also used to record the pattern of the electrical activity of thebrain to check for abnormal electrical activity (Parks, 2009).
Differentprocedures can be conducted by the physician to diagnose Alzheimer’sincluding a brain scan, cognitive and neuropsychological tests,Presymptomatic tests, laboratory tests and psychiatric evaluation(Perry, 2006). Brain scans are mainly done to identify tumors,strokes and other hitches related with Alzheimer’s. Scans may alsohelp in determining the changes in brain structure and functions. Themost common scans include computed tomographic scans and magneticresonance imaging, which use magnetic fields, computers, and radiowaves to produce detailed images of tissues, organs body structuresand nerves. Other types of scans allow the physician watch brainfunctioning to identify any disorder (ibid).
Additionally, Cognitive and neuropsychological test help indetermining Alzheimer’s diagnosis by measuring language skills,memory and other capabilities related to mental functions (Perry,2006). Laboratory tests also assist the physician in ruling out otherconditions including complete blood count, measuring sodium level andother electrolytes present in the blood, blood sugar test, a checkof vitamin B, cerebrospinal fluid analysis, thyroid functionanalysis, food and drug test and urine analysis.
Moreover, presymptomatic tests can be conducted when a condition isdirectly connected to a gene defect to help determine whether anindividual is at a risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Counseling froma genetic counselor or family member or a health professional isrecommended before taking the test (Shankle & Amen, 2004). Insome cases, general social network support is required in dealingwith illness and old age.
Procedures used to stop or slow common neurodegenerative diseasessuch as Alzheimer’s have been unsuccessful over the decades.Pharmacological and non-pharmacological methodologies have been seento play a significant role in the treatment of the disease.Pharmacological treatments involve the use of medicines to slow orstop an illness as well as treat its symptoms (Parks, 2009).Nevertheless, there is no drug up to date available for the treatmentof Alzheimer’s to stops or slows down the death or malfunctioningof the neurons in the brain. Continuous research on some therapiesand drugs used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s are under way, andmuch hope lies in the success of these researchers. Besides, five ormore drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration toimprove temporarily symptoms by increasing the number ofneurotransmitters in the brain
Shankle and Amen (2004) established that active administration ofAlzheimer’s help improves an individual quality of life through allstages of the disease. Active management may include the use ofappropriate and available treatment options, coordination of carebetween physicians, lay caregivers and medical professionals, takingpart in supportive services and support groups and efficientmanagement of the condition.
Non-pharmacological treatment employs the use of physical andreminiscence therapy with a goal of maintaining cognitive functionsand helping in compensation for impairment by the brain.Additionally, they aim at improving the quality of life throughreduction of behavioral symptoms including apathy, sleepdisturbances, agitation, and aggression (Talbot & Marsden, 2008).
Though there is no certain way to prevent the development ofAlzheimer’s disease, researchers suggest that leads to a healthylifestyle can reduce the risk (Shankle & Amen, 2004).Individuals, who perform regular physical activities and exercises,are at a lower risk of developing AD since they have a generalprotective effect on the health of the brain hence, slowing down theprogression of the illness (ibid). Moreover, Mediterranean diet stylesuch as vegetables, beans, nuts, olive oil, and cheese help reducethe risk of AD, lower cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes leadingto a healthy lifestyle (ibid).
Significancein Human Development
Previous and current knowledge on Alzheimer’s disease has played asignificant part in individual and societal lifestyles. Researchersover the past decades have provided vital information aboutAlzheimer’s disease, its possible causes and risk factors, how itdevelops and affects the brain, probable signs and symptoms for earlydiagnosis and different prevention strategies (Shankle & Amen,2004). The work offers a hope for better drugs and treatment for thedisorder.
Nevertheless, increased information and knowledge about Alzheimer’sdisease plays a significant role in human development. Theinformation provides a better understanding of AD as well as itsdiagnosis and treatment which help the affected individuals andcaretakers to live their lives fully and be familiarized withpossible threats they are likely to face in the course of the disease(Foster, 2004).
Also, Researches funded by various non-governmental organizationssuch as NIA continue to supply reliable information. New discoveriesin the laboratory help design therapeutic approaches and create toolsand resources that may assist in slowing down the development of ADor even cure the ailment by speeding the development of treatment tobe used in the practice (Talbot & Marsden, 2008). The methodhelps in human development by ensuring high quality of life to thosewith the disease (Salomon, 2014).
The review has explored scientific evidence that demonstrate valuableinformation on the causes and available treatments for Alzheimer’s.Alzheimer’s disease is caused by aluminum and is common toindividuals carrying APO E4 alleles since they have less capabilityof removing brain beta-amyloid and tau proteins. As a consequence,these individuals are at a higher risk of developing AD.Additionally, major symptoms experienced by those suffering from thedisease occur gradually with the common ones including, retrogenesis,and lack of ability in coordination, language, cognition and feeding.Although there is no specific treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,one promising target is beta-amyloid. Currently, researchers havedeveloped several ways to remove the protein from the brain andprevent its clumping together to form plaques while experimentingdrugs that have a zero content of beta-amyloid. Besides, other newapproaches to treatment are also under investigation worldwide. Ascientist has a definite notion on some of these drugs with theneeded funding. Emerging research also suggests that the stepsindividual take to ensure a healthy heart functioning includingphysical activities, exercises and dietary may also reduce the riskof the disease.
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