Overview of Alzheimer's Disease

An August 23, 2010 article in the New York Times provides a useful and straightforward forward overview of Alzheimer's disease (AD) as it is understood today.

The causes of AD are not specifically known. However, family history is a risk factor. So are high blood pressure, history of head trauma and female gender. Both genetic and environmental factors can cause AD. Early and late sunset AD are differentiated.

There is only one sure way to diagnose AD and that is by autopsy. However, there are clinical manifestations that a physician can use to come to a probable diagnosis. AD must be differentiated from dementia. Dementia includes difficulty with language, memory, perception, emotional behavior and cognitive skills. These problems generally do not interfere with daily living.

AD symptoms include language problems, misplacing items, getting lost, personality changes losing interest in favored activities and difficulty in performing tasks that require thought. As AD symptoms progress, they do tend to interfere with the ability to care for one's self. Severe AD includes the ability to understand language, recognize family. Perform ADL's, incontinence and swallowing problems.

AD is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. A physician needs to perform blood tests to rule out other metabolic causes for the symptoms. An MRI or CT scan can find plaques and shrinkage of brain tissue in later stages. However, in the early stages, there are little to none of these changes.

There is no present cure for AD. However, there are some treatments and research is showing promise in slowing and / or reversing the symptoms and physical changes of AD. Currently there are two types of medications used to treat AD. One type increases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is low in AD patients. The other drug, Namenda, is a NMDA receptor antagonist that binds to the NMDA receptor. It has been shown that in AD patients, Glutamate excites the NMDA receptor and Nemenda binds to the receptor better than glutamate. Additionally, a Physician can prescribe drugs to help relieve some of the symptoms associated with AD. Many AD patients are taking vitamins and supplements. However, you should check with your Physician before taking any vitamin or supplement.

The outlook for AD patients is not generally good. Life expectancies are between 3 to 20 years after diagnosis. Late stage AD can last from months to years. AD patients usually die from infections or failure of other body systems. There are many complications with AD. Patients lose the ability to function and get illnesses from being bed ridden fluctuating from bed sores to pneumonia. Additionally, they suffer broken bones, malnutrition, violence towards others and violence directed at them.

You should contact a Physician, or other medical professional, if a loved one develops symptoms of dementia, if an AD patient develops sudden changes in symptoms or the AD patient can no longer care for themselves. There is no proven way to prevent AD. However there are some things that can be done to help slow the progress. A person should eat a low fat diet, eat cold water fish high in omega-3 fatty acids 2-3 times per week, reduce linoleic acid, increase anti-oxidants, maintain normal blood pressure and stay mentally and socially active. You can consider taking NSAIDs or Statins, but talk to your Physician first.

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