'Alzheimer's Disease'.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)

Manila Bulletin, September 24, 2002 | Go to article overview

'Alzheimer's Disease'.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)


ALZHEIMER'S disease is named after Alois Alzheimer, M.D., a German psychiatrist. In 1905, Dr. Alzheimer first described the changes in the brain tissue of a woman who died of unknown mental illness. He found abnormal deposits called senile or neuritic plaques and tangled bundles of nerve fibers now known as neurofibrillary tangles in the brain of his former patient. These plaques and tangles are characteristic abnormalities of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease.

The cause of Alzheimer's disease - why these neurofibrillary tangles and plaques develop in some patient and not in others - remains a mystery. However, several theories have been proposed. And it seems clear that Alzheimer's disease is not caused by hardening of the arteries nor is there any evidence that it is contagious. Although emotional upsets and stress may temporarily make symptoms worse, they don't cause the disease.

Modern methods of analyzing brain tissue have revealed that the neurofibrillary tangles are deposit of abnormal proteins, the most common of which is beta amyloid. An Alzheimer's brain is also deficient in several neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow nerves in different parts of the brain to send messages to each other), the best known of which is acetylcholine. Although replenishing these neurotransmitters has no real impact on dementia, doing so sometimes alleviates symptoms.

Some research has revealed a number of interesting clues. Many of them point to nutritional deficiencies. For example, people with Alzheimer's tend to have low levels of vitamin B12 and zinc in their bodies. The B vitamins are important in cognitive functioning, and it is well-known that the processed foods that make up so much of the modern diet have been stripped of these essential nutrients. The developments of the neurofibrillary tangles and plaques in the brain that are characteristic of the disease have been associated with zinc deficiency. Research has also revealed a connection between Alzheimer's disease and high concentrations of aluminum and mercury in the brain.

Who are at risks?

How do you know if you're especially susceptible to Alzheimer's? There are no absolute risk factors, but there are some statistical correlations.

* Age: Full-blown Alzheimer's affect virtually all of whom are older than sixty; the majority are beyond eighty-five.

* Family History: The risk of getting Alzheimer's in your lifetime is slightly higher if any of your close relatives is or was affected.

* Genetics: There is evidence that the presence of a gene that produces a protein called APOE4 (apolipoprotein 4) increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's

In the early stage of the disease, people experience minor symptoms that are often attributed to emotional upsets, stress, or jokingly passed off as "old age." They may misplace things or have a fear of going out, preferring to stay home or in other familiar environments. Gradually, they become more forgetful, particularly about recent events.

As the disease progresses, memory loss increases and other changes, such as confusion, combativeness, and other mood and behavior problems are likely to appear. …

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