Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.
Signs and Symptoms
The 10 most common signs of Alzheimer’s Disease are:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work, or leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgement
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality
Attached below is an interview done with Alzheimer’s patient Dr. Don Hayen, who explains very clearly and lucidly his personal experience with the disease and how it has effected his life.
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Over 5 million people in the United States of America are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, more women than men as demonstrated by the graph below, and 200,000 of these people are under the age of 65. The population of people over age 65 is expected to significantly increase in the near future as the Baby Boomer generation nears and surpasses retirement age. The instances of Alzheimer’s disease therefore is expected to increase along with the elderly population.
Ultimately, Alzheimer’s is fatal. Currently, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of the top ten without a means to prevent, cure or slow its progression. Over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, with 200,000 under the age of 65. While deaths from other major diseases, including heart disease, stroke and HIV continue to experience significant declines, those from Alzheimer’s have increased 66 percent between 2000 and 2008, as can be seen in the graph below.
Alzheimer’s disease is a heavy burden not only on the patients themselves, but also on the national healthcare system as well as the family and caregivers of those patients.
The aging of America threatens the bankrupting of America. Caring for people with Alzheimer’s will cost all payers (Medicare, Medicaid, individuals, private insurance and HMOs) $20 trillion over the next 40 years, enough to pay off the national debt and still send a $10,000 check to every man, woman and child in America. In 2012, America will have spent an estimated $200 billion in direct costs for those with Alzheimer’s, including $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. Average per person Medicare costs for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are three times higher than those without these conditions. Having Alzheimer’s also increases costs because having the disease makes it more difficult to treat other diseases that may also be present. For example, a senior with diabetes and Alzheimer’s costs Medicare 81 percent more than a senior who only has diabetes.
With Alzheimer’s, it is not just those with the disease who suffer – it is also their caregivers and families. In 2011, 15.2 million family members and friends provided unpaid care valued at over $210 billion. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s takes longer, lasts longer, is more personal and intrusive, and takes a heavy toll on the health of the caregivers themselves. More than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high, with one-third reporting symptoms of depression. Caregiving may also have a negative impact on health, employment, income and family finances. Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving on their own health, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $8.7 billion in additional health costs in 2011.
There is increasing evidence to support a role for oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s disease, with increased levels of lipid peroxidation, DNA and protein oxidation products (HNE, 8-HO-guanidine and protein carbonyls respectively) in brains with the disease. With normal aging the brain accumulates metals ions such iron (Fe), zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu), and therefore the brain is abundant in antioxidants to control and prevent the detrimental formation of reactive oxygen species. In Alzheimer’s disease there is an over accumulation of the Amyloid β peptide (Aβ), and this is the result of either an elevated generation from amyloid precursor protein (APP) or inefficient clearance of Aβ from the brain.
Alzheimer’s can also be described from a neurological perspective, as the video below explains.
Current FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs support neurological communication process through two different mechanisms:
1) Cholinesterase inhibitors work because they slow down the process that breaks down a key neurotransmitter. Donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine are also cholinesterase inhibitors.
2) Memantine is an NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor antagonist, which works because it regulates the activity of glutamate, an important neurotransmitter in the brain involved in learning and memory. The attachment of glutamate to cell surface “docking sites” called NMDA receptors allows calcium to enter the cell. This process is important for cell signaling, as well as learning and memory. In Alzheimer’s disease, however, excess glutamate can be released from damaged cells, leading to chronic overexposure to calcium, which can speed up cell damage. Memantine helps prevent this destructive chain of events by partially blocking the NMDA receptors.