Alzheimer's Disease: Epidemic or Misdiagnosis?

Article excerpt

Alzheimer's Disease: Epidemic or Misdiagnosis?

For those who are skeptical of statistics, recent news reporting Alzheimer's disease to be higher than previously estimated will probably seem to be confirming evidence.

Others, especially critics in the medical community, have long suspected that improper diagnosis has often confused the conditions of dementia, senility, pseudosenility and Alzheimer's disease.

The following reports are based on questions posed to experts in gerontology and scientific research in brain failure. Documented reports from medical textbooks and case histories comprise much of the inquiry.

Q: How is dementia defined? What are its symptoms? A: Dementia implies general impairment of mental functions,

including language, the inability to think abstractly, loss of sense

of time and place, emotional instability, and difficulty in taking

care of oneself.

Q: Is dementia an inevitable part of aging? A: Old age is not synonymous with loss of intellectual functioning.

We know that many people live into their eighties, nineties and

even beyond without a measurable decline compared to youth or

middle age.

Conversely, some individuals suffer from decline in their

forties, fifties and sixties. It should also be noted that when these

brain function changes take place in younger people they are not

accompanied by physical changes characterized as old age. Nor

is weakness a manifestation of middle-age brain failure (presenile

dementia).

Q: This "infirmity of the mind" termed dementia, how does

it differ from Alzheimer's disease? A: Dementia is the general term for brain failure and it covers many

conditions, some of which are reversible with good prospects for

recovery; actual brain damage usually has not taken place.

Alzheimer's disease is one particular condition in which the brain's

cells are dying and plaque formations have begun to accumulate,

impairing functions. Recovery from Alzheimer's disease has

occurred infrequently. It is usually incurable.

Q: Since the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease often mimic the

other dementias, what are the chances of misdiagnosis? A: There are many disorders that cause dementia or simulate the

condition. Because Alzheimer's disease is not readily understood

by many in the medical profession, the chances of misdiagnosis

are widespread.

Psychiatric disorders, such as depression, are often mistaken

for dementia. Drugs and medications can cause personality

changes mistakenly identified. Nutritional disorders are

frequently implicated. The list is long and the probability of error

great. A discussion of these conditions follows in this report.

Q: Does hardening of the arteries contribute to Alzheimer's

disease? A: The hardening of the arteries theory (arteriosclerosis) has been

abandoned in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Autopsies of

individuals who suffered from various forms of dementia other

than Alzheimer's disease usually did not show arteriosclerotic

causes, whereas the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of

Alzheimer's disease were evident.

Q: Do these plaques appear in the brain of older people who

have not suffered from any form of dementia? A: Some neurological diseases produce neurofibrillary tangles.

Parkinson's disease victims have plaques and tangles, according

to autopsies, but they do not affect the brain to the extent that

Alzheimer's disease does. The reason could be attributed to the

locale of the tangles and how they affect brain function.

Q: What are the known causes of Alzheimer's disease? A: No one seems to know for certain. …