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Alois Alzheimer

A German doctor named Alois Alzheimer was the first one to conduct a full study on Alzheimer’s disease in 1906. Born in 1864 in Southern Germany, Alzheimer earned his medical degree in Berlin and later worked in an asylum in Frankfurt in 1887.

It was during this time that Alzheimer became interested in the inner workings of the brain, particularly the cortex. He then embarked on studying psychiatry and neuropathology to further his career. Along with a colleague, the famous Franz Nissl, he published his work, ‘Histologic and Histopathologic Studies of the Cerebral Cortex,’ in two separate years, 1907 and 1918. He then went on to study more about manic depression, depression, and schizophrenia.

Though many of his earlier works were met with doubts, Alzheimer did not waver. Today, his works on various topics concerning the brain and its diseases has earned him being rightly called as one of the founding fathers of neuropathology.

Management of the disease has progressed a little, although there is still no cure. It is apparent from some studies that vitamin and mineral supplements can sometimes help a little in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. It is also a help if people can recognize that they do have the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, as the recognition of it leaves them a little less frustrated and they can make their own long-term plans for their own future.

Try to keep the person you love as active as possible. There are drugs on the market today for improving brain function, typically anti-dementia and psychotropic drugs (Doc-194823.pdf). Ask your doctor about them may be the Blood Pressure increase. “Try to have some laughs along the way. It does help!!”

My Own Experience with Alzheimer’s:

I would like to share with you an experience with a person suffering from Alzheimer’s in my own family. The person was my late father-in-law. He was a lovely man, had no vices, and was even-tempered. His two loves besides his wife and family were to eat an apple a day and to enjoy a glass of beer at the end of the day.

Alzheimer's vector diagramHe was an active man on the farm. He played golf and lawn bowls. He was also extremely active in the Masonic lodge and held a high ranking there. It was not until 20 years later that we realized that Alzheimer’s was slowly and insidiously taking hold way back then.

The first signs, of Alzheimer’s, as we now know, but thought little of at the time, was that he retreated from both golf and bowls. He told us that he didn’t want to go anymore as “people” were talking about him.

He also relinquished responsibility for making any decisions about running the farm to my husband. He said that the new chemicals were too complex for him to learn about. He also became less involved with his wife and social events. His wife, thought him a little “difficult” and made sure to see her friends during the day, without him, and stayed home at night with him. We still didn’t know that anything was wrong!!

Mid-Stage of Alzheimer’s:

Alzheimer's causes

 

Now, he was becoming increasingly disorientated. He could not recall what day it was, he began to have problems finding words, and would often make up words that simply made no sense of the conversation. His personality started to change from a mild and docile person to one who was irritable and erratic. He became extremely difficult to live with. This stage lasted for about three years, with deterioration of personality, memory and ability to manage his personal daily life quickly disappearing.

Late Stage Alzheimer’s:

He was still living at home with his very patient and wonderful wife as his caretaker at this stage. We would laugh at some of the things he would do. As his illness progressed, we could see him very definitely regressing through his age groups.

He became quite bad tempered and sometimes violent, which was of concern. As he regressed through his teenage years, we found him one day carrying a bottle of beer around the house. Asked what he was doing, he said, “Looking for a water trough”…he used to hide his beer supply from his parents in the horse water trough on the farm!! He now substituted the deep freezer for the water trough and we always had to be on the alert to check, before the beer bottle froze and burst.

Another time, going through the two year old tantrum stage, he would pull apart every drawer and closet in the house, leaving a huge mess, looking for his “apple”. The day he was no longer safe to have at home was when we found him dismantling the electric fuse box. He was trying to “fix” it, not knowing what or how to do this and that it didn’t need fixing anyway.

He also started to wander. One day he took off on his bike. It was a hot day and he was found 25 kilometers away on a back dirt road. We knew we had to act.

Leaving Home:

Eventually, we had to admit that he could no longer be looked after at home. The next stage in coping with Alzheimer’s was for him to go to a place where he would be “accessed.” When we visited, he sometimes knew us, and at other times he didn’t. He would often not be wearing his own clothes. Much to the distress of his wife, he even “shared” false teeth!!

We found a place in a locked ward in a nursing home. Now the disease progressed quite quickly. He didn’t recognize any of the family; he needed help to shower and to dress. He needed help to eat and then to walk.

You Never Know How Much They Can Understand:

His wife died. His daughter broke the news to him. He cried! This man, who had lost all Autonomic Nervous System Control and we thought his mind, understood that his wife had died. Never write off a person with Alzheimer’s, thinking that they just can’t understand anything, as there seem to be brief moments of lucidity.

Women suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia (03) that causes memory loss, decline in reasoning, change in gait, and difficulty in speaking and understanding. The two types of Alzheimer’s disease are early and late on-set. The early onset is rare and hereditary while the late-onset is the most common type of the disease.

There are several risk factors involved such as age, genetics, and the occurrence of several diseases like cardiovascular related-illnesses and diabetes. Recently, gender has also become a factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies have shown that men who have had a stroke in the past and depressed women are more likely to contract Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study published online on Nature Genetics, scientists have discovered that for women who inherit two copies of the PCDH11X gene, a variant gene located on the X chromosome, the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease becomes even higher. Men and women who had just one copy of the variant PCDH11X gene in their X chromosome also had increased risk but the effects were considerably weaker than having two copies of the variant gene.

However, more evidence should be gathered to further prove the potency of their claims. The scientists say that their study does not imply that women are more highly to contract Alzheimer’s disease than men; only that women who have two copies of PCDH11X (01) are more likely to develop the disease. Another gene variant called CALHM1 is also suggested to have the same effect as PCDH11X.

Another recent study suggests that patients who have a mother with Alzheimer’s disease will most likely exhibit brain abnormality and shrinkage which are characteristic of the disease. Another study is now underway to investigate whether the genetic material of the mother which is transferred to her child in the mitochondrion can also play a hand in contracting Alzheimer’s disease.

Like the previously mentioned novel studies, more experiments and careful studies should be undertaken to confirm their studies’ claims. If these studies’ results would be confirmed, then a possible new preventive treatment could be devised for those with Alzheimer’s.

Most scientists say that because women have a higher life expectancy rate than men they are more susceptible to diseases that progress over time such as Alzheimer’s disease. Experts suggest that since women are the primary caregivers in the family, the added stress of that, plus work and household chores, might also play a role in the development of the disease.

Men suffer Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia most commonly seen in the elderly. It is known to have several risk factors like age, genetics, and other diseases like stroke, diabetes, and depression. Recently, there have been studies made that suggest that Alzheimer’s disease may also be gender-specific.

In some studies, women are said to be more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease due to the presence of a variant gene, PCDH11X, found in the X chromosomes. Depressed women are also at high risk of contracting the disease. Alzheimer’s disease is also said to be a maternally inherited disease because patients with mothers who have Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to contract the disease. Women are also at a much higher risk of developing dementia.

But in recent research done, it has been found that men are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment is considered the transition phase before dementia. Mild cognitive impairment is the loss of memory, similar to Alzheimer’s disease, but those afflicted by it can still perform basic tasks and has normal reasoning and judgment.

Patients with mild cognitive impairment are more likely to have the ApoE gene (02); the gene responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. What this study suggests is that men may have higher chances of contracting the disease, but women will have a faster rate of developing it.

Men who have had a stroke are also at a high risk to contract Alzheimer’s disease. People with stroke have elevated levels of cholesterol and blood pressure; both factors contribute largely to the development of vascular dementia. Although vascular dementia is different from Alzheimer’s, there is a high probability that both neurodegenerative diseases can occur at the same time.

Studies have also shown that men who enjoy cognitive and social activities have lower or slower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Social interaction like visiting friends or going to parties after retirement can help keep depression away from the elderly. Playing mentally challenging games like puzzles can also keep the development of the disease slower.

Meanwhile, men are also more susceptible to contracting diabetes and experiencing a stroke. Take note that these two diseases are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Other cardiovascular diseases, which men are more at risk than women, can also increase the chances of having Alzheimer’s because the condition may reduce blood flow into the brain and the removal

Alzheimer And Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is also a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease. But unlike Alzheimer’s, this disease is inherited. Mutations in the gene called HTT is said to cause the disease. HTT then in turn instructs a protein called huntingtin which is reputed to have an important role in nerve cells in the brain. It requires only one copy of the defective gene to cause the disease. People who have the defective gene will not show its symptoms until they reach the age of thirty or forty.

People with Huntington’s disease will experience similar symptoms like those having Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Progressive loss of memory
  • Some cases of psychosis and hallucinations
  • Difficulty in movement.
  • Depression and irritability – patients with Huntington’s disease are also at risk of suicidal attempts
  • Difficulty in learning new things
  • But unlike patients with Alzheimer’s disease, those with Huntington’s disease will experience additional symptoms such as:
  • Tremors, uncontrollable involuntary muscle movements and finding balance (bradykinesia); and
  • Difficulty in swallowing and speaking

Like Alzheimer’s disease, there are also two types of this disease: the early and the late on-set. The type of this disease is the most commonly observed among patients. The symptoms for the late on-set type would begin to show when the person reaches the age of thirty to forty years old.

The early type of Huntington’s disease, on the other hand, would begin to show its symptoms at adolescence or early childhood. But take note that the early on-set type is very rare in cases. The earliest and definitive symptoms of the early on-set type are drooling and slurred speech.

But recent studies have indicated that the symptoms of Huntington’s disease are much more similar to frontotemporal dementia than Alzheimer’s disease. People with Huntington’s disease can use medication like anti-depressants, anti-psychotic, Botulinum toxin (for dystonia), and mood stabilizers.

Drugs used to treat this disease can cause serious side effects so doctors prefer giving their patients the lowest possible dose. Recent clinical trials have used cancer and AIDS drugs as combination treatment and the coenzyme Q10 to reduce the rate of Huntington’s disease from developing. Although successful in animal trials, these findings have yet to be tested on humans.

A healthy diet and lots of exercises can do wonders to relieve the patient. The caregiver should also attend to the patient’s every need since the patient will not be able to take care of himself.

Diagnosis

Although there are no available treatments or cures for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis of the disease will help the patient and his family to prepare for the future. Early consultation can give the family several options on how to care for the patient and also gives chance to the patient to make decisions as well.

In the early days, there was only one sure way of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease; that is if doctors would perform a brain autopsy to check for plaques and tangles in the tissue. Nowadays, there are several ways in which doctors can now make a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease even while the patient is still alive.

Doctors often use the following tests to make a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. The patient’s complete medical history. The patient should not withhold any information regarding his past or current health problems. Family history of the disease or other related illnesses must also be disclosed since Alzheimer’s disease can be inherited.
  2. Urine and blood test and spinal fluid test through a lumbar puncture. Other diseases such as stroke, diabetes 2, and high blood pressure may affect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. Tests that measure the patient’s memory, spatial, attention, and language skills may also be conducted. Doctors can also use the Mini-mental status examination (MMSE) to test if the patient is having problems with his intellectual functions. If the patient’s disease is already in progress, a battery of neuropsychological tests should be given.
  4. Taking electroencephalogram (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and CT scan of the brain to check for any abnormality in the size of the brain.

After the test has been conducted, the results may not always point to Alzheimer’s disease but to several other related diseases like metabolic problems in the thyroid, brain tumors, and depression which may have similar symptoms to that of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for more than half of dementia cases in the elderly. This condition may result from a vitamin B12 deficiency is very common among people aged 60 and above. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be tested through blood tests. Most of these other illnesses can be readily treated.

In recent studies, doctors and scientists have found a memory change called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Although MCI is different from Alzheimer’s disease, people who suffer from this condition also have ongoing memory problems but none in other areas such language, reasoning and attention

Alzheimer’s: Symptoms, stages, causes, and treatments

Dr. Ozair

Written by Dr. Ozair (CEO of SignSymptom.com) as physician writers are physicians who write creatively in fields outside their practice of medicine.