November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month
Alzheimer's Association observes November as Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. Their vision is a world without Alzheimer's disease because dementia is not a normal part of aging and Alzheimer's is a progressive, fatal disease. It destroys brain cells and is now the 7th leading cause of death in the US. Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease die within eight years of the diagnosis. It is the most common form of dementia and there is no cure. It wreaks havoc and devastation in the lives of those affected.
Our brain is our most powerful organ - it defines who we are as human beings. The brain has 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) which process and store information. Each of these neurons branches into a rich network of connections called synapses. Electrical charges within the synapses trigger the release of neurotransmtters. Alzheimer's disease disrupts this important process of transmitting information amongst nerve cells. The cerebrum is the part of the brain that fills the skull with cells responsible for thought, feeling, personality and problem solving. The cerebral cortex is part of the cerebrum. The cortex becomes shriveled in Alzheimer's disease and is especially severe in the hippocampus, the part of the cortex involved in creating new memories. The brain stem connects the brain to spinal cord and vital functions of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are controlled through these cells. The cerebellum is part of the brain beneath the cerebrum and controls balance and coordination. Almost 25% of our blood supply is pumped to the brain with each heartbeat where the neurons use the oxygen carried by the blood.
Alzheimer's disease causes tissue loss and the brain actually shrinks over time, affecting all of these functions. Clusters of protein fragments called plaques form between the neurons and the neurons also contain tangles, twisted strands of yet another typed of protein. These clumps block the transmission of signals amongst neurons. As with many diseases which affect the brain, it is the personality and behavior changes that are the most difficult for loved ones to cope with. People can undergo extreme personality changes, exhibiting extreme emotional distress, poor judgment, hallucinations, delusions and aggressive behaviors. With advanced Alzheimer's disease, neuron death is so widespread that the person is unable to communicate or care for themselves.
While there is no cure, there are treatments available for Alzheimer's disease:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors are used to help cognitive symptoms by preventing the breakdown of a chemical messenger. These include:
- Memantine (Namenda) helps with cognitive symptoms by regulating a different chemical messenger. It is used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease.
- For psychiatric and behavioral symptoms:
Thank you RebelBlueAngel for use of the photo Harry.