Female Times: Health Watch - the Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), June 20, 2001 | Go to article overview

Female Times: Health Watch - the Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease


Byline: SANDRA CHAPMAN

Doctors now believe that high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels greatly increase the risk of the devastating disease Alzheimer's. June is awareness month for the disease and research being conducted in Belfast could provide some of the missing pieces of the jigsaw of a condition which destroys lives and costs the health service millions each year.

MORE than 16,000 people in Northern Ireland have dementia, many of them under the age of 65 with Alzheimers being the most common form of it.

Its a physical disease which attacks brain cells (where we store memory) and brain nerves and transmitters (which carry instructions around the brain).

Researchers around the world including Belfast are trying to find out why the production of a chemical messenger acetylcholine (a protein) is disrupted leading to nerve ends being attacked followed by the death of vital cells.

The brain shrinks as gaps develop in the temporal lobe and hippocampus, important areas for receiving and storing new information.

The ability to remember, speak, think and make decisions is disrupted. After death, tangles and plaques made from protein fragments, dying cells and nerve ends are discovered in the brain.

One of the most recent research projects in Belfast involved Dr Richard Harvey, Director of Research for the Alzheimer's Disease Society in Belfast.

"We had been looking for the mechanisms that cause the plaques to develop and another research programme which is just underway is looking at genes to see what type of people develop this disease.

"It involves 300 volunteers and is important work because some patients with the disease develop behavioural problems and they can be sensitive to drugs. If we can work out who is going to have problem behaviour we can use better and earlier strategies for treating them."

At the moment there are three different drugs for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer's, the best known probably is Aricept. In some cases it stops the symptoms getting worse for up to two years, others get more dramatic help from it but Dr Harvey says the effects wear off after a period of time.

He says: "We are looking to new treatments to modify the progression of the disease or even slow it down and of course prevent it if we can.

"This latest research about blood pressure and cholesterol indicates that these factors can double a person's risk of contracting the disease, therefore lifestyle is important. People need to be aware of these problems and get them under control. We can't see that stress has anything to do with Alzheimer's."

People have a less than five per cent chance of inheriting Alzhemier's. A research project in Cardiff is looking for genes specific to this risk factor.

Alzheimer's appears to be affecting people at a younger age, although there is some evidence that awareness has contributed to this. …

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