A Research Paper on Alzheimer’s Disease

Abstract

In this paper, Alzheimer’s disease will be delved into, investigated and dissected. This will include all that is known about the disease as much of it is unknown still, despite increasing efforts from the medical community to uncover its origin. The disease’s causes, symptoms and stages will be discussed and illuminated. The effects on other body systems, its signs and symptoms and any other complications will be highlighted as well. Additionally, advancements in treating this disease are carefully examined.

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A Research Paper on Alzheimer’s Disease

In this paper, I will be giving an overview of Alzheimer’s disease. This will include its history, prognosis and treatment available and recent advancements made towards finding a cure. Alzheimer’s disease is a somewhat recently discovered phenomenon. It is a specific type of dementia, a disease that impairs a person’s cognitive functioning and behavioral abilities to the point that it interferes with that person’s daily life. The disease was discovered in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer who noted shrinkage around nerve cells in his patient’s brain who had also reported,” symptoms of memory loss, paranoia and psychological changes.”, according to the National Institute of Aging. After the patient passed, Dr. Alzheimer dissected her brain, finding strange clumps which we now know are amyloid plaques as well as tangled fibers now called neurofibrillary. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the symptoms of the aforementioned patient’s, however the disease is a very slowly progressing one, so most afflicted don’t know until the symptoms become obvious to those around them. “Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent cause of irreversible dementia in adults. The intellectual impairment progresses gradually from forgetfulness to total impairment.” (Mace, Rabins 15) Symptoms usually appear in a person’s mid-60’s, however there are rare cases of early on-set Alzheimer’s where symptoms are exhibited in a person’s 30’s and 40’s. The disease usually progresses to the point that a person afflicted is unable to take care of themselves due to severe memory loss and loss of motor skills, requiring full time assistance. They may also experience forms of delusion such as hallucinations or paranoia that cause them to act impulsively in the moderate stage of dementia, according to the National Institute of Aging. Most diagnosed with this disease will reach this point sadly, as they usually have an average of eight years left to live after the diagnosis as there is no cure, only treatments. The difficulty in treating Alzheimer’s is highlighted by the fact that the first FDA approved drug to treat it wasn’t available until 1993, almost a full century after its discovery. As of today, there are a total of five FDA approved drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease, none of which truly treat the disease but only prolong the symptoms that will eventually surface. “If we had a drug or other intervention that made people with Alzheimer’s disease even a little better, nevermind curing the disease, I’d sing its praises to the rooftops.[…] But there is not.” (Dedsen 4)

Alzheimer’s disease affects every body system in humans due to the fact that it destroys the brain. It atrophizes, or shrinks, the brain’s neurons and their networks die off, resulting in shrinking of various brain regions. There is no cure as of yet because there is no known way to reverse deterioration of these precious cells. Warning signs of the disease include symptoms of memory loss, severe enough that it affects job performance, difficulty with familiar tasks, issues with language, difficulty with keeping track of time or place, decreased judgment skills, severe mood changes and inability to recognize loved ones, especially in the late stages of the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Even a change of a person’s sense of humor can be a warning sign. Most individuals who reach the late stages of this disease will require full time assistance such as live in nurses.

On the bright side, specialists typically accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s at a rate of 95%. The only true way to confirm Alzheimer’s disease is through autopsy, however there are a multitude of tests specialists utilize to differentiate Alzheimer’s from other forms of dementia. These include genetic testing, magnetic resonance imaging, urinalysis, blood tests, electroencephalogram, spinal tap, computed tomography scan, chest X-ray and a mental status test, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In contrast, the prognosis with treatment for those affected is currently bleak. There are few medications available to those with Alzheimer’s and none prevent or cure the disease. Average life expectancy is eight years after diagnosis, but it can range from one to twenty years for some, all according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Currently, there are hundreds of studies being conducted on treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Most medications being proposed are modifying therapies, meaning that they could alter how the disease progresses. others include cognitive enhancers for improving memory or attentiveness and lastly symptomatic agents which may lessen symptoms such as hallucinations. The focus areas of research currently being conducted are clinical and laboratory research. Clinical research at the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging focus on normal aging, mild cognitive impairment and dementia disorders. This process is used in the hopes of discovering patterns or signs that may help specialists discover risk of Alzheimer’s even sooner than previously possible. Laboratory research includes studying amyloid and tau proteins. Both of these proteins have strong associations with those at risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Amyloid proteins are being studied with both human and mouse models to determine any genetic factors that might predispose people to this disease. Additionally, tau proteins are being studied to ascertain the possibility of preventing the build up of this protein that causes neurons to malfunction and die, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Currently, there is no prevention of the disease itself, only medication that may slow down the progress of the disease in certain individuals. There are tests available to help determine if you or a loved one may be at risk, but no prevention. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease due to the fact that it’s largely out of our control. Later generations may see improvements in treating it or preventing it or ideally finding a cure. However, the fact that it’s been known for over a century and there has yet to be substantial slowing of the progress of the disease through medication, no available prevention and no cure whatsoever is depressing to say the least. It is “the only one of the nation’s leading 10 causes of death for which there is no effective treatment.” (Dedsen 4) However, having said this, there has been a greater push and call for urgency in discovering a cure for the disease. President Obama signed The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease into effect in January of 2011. This initiative gave greater funding for new research projects, better tools for clinicians, easier access to information to help caregivers and created an awareness campaign, according to the National Institute of Aging. There has even been news about its awareness efforts in pop culture thanks to Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren MIller Rogen, who’s mother passed away due to complications from being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, creating the program, “Hilarity for Charity”. This program is described as being,” a non-profit movement dedicated to raising awareness, inspiring change and accelerating progress in Alzheimer’s care, research and support through the engagement of millenials.” For six years in a row now, the Rogens have put on a stand-up special grouping together various comedians to help raise funds for Alzheimer’s research, the most recent of which can be streamed on netflix. While there is no cure, seeing such a push for progress in understanding and fighting this disease can only give one hope that major advancements will be made in the future.

References

  1. About Hilarity for Charity. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hilarityforcharity.org/about/
  2. Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. (2016, August). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet
  3. Bredesen, D. (2017) The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.
  4. R. C. (n.d.). Research and Prognosis on Alzheimer’s Disease. Retrieved from https://www.gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=3249&cn=231
  5. Mace, N. L., & Rabins, P. V. (2017). The 36-hour day: A family guide to caring for people who have Alzheimer disease, related dementias and memory loss. New York: Grand Central.
  6. Obama administration presents national plan to fight Alzheimer’s disease. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/obama-administration-presents-national-plan-fight-alzheimers-disease
  7. What Is Alzheimer’s? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
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