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A description of the symptoms and possible causes of Alzheimer's
disease as an example of brain malfunction
Alzheimer's disease is one of a number of forms of dementia. This type
of illness affects the brain by gradually reducing the number of brain
cells. This decline in brain tissue can occur in all parts of the
brain. However, Alzheimer's deals mainly with the Cerebrum part of the
brain. The Cerebrum controls intelligence, memory, language skills,
emotions and personality. As a result, Alzheimer's has many symptoms,
which link to the part of the Cerebrum that has been damaged. The
results of Alzheimer's are apparent, as one in ten people over 65 and
in half of the population over 85. Their disease seriously affects
their lives as seven out of ten live at home.
The earliest and most common sign of Alzheimer's is a decline in
memory. This memory loss affects recent information more so than
long-term memory. This would also lead to a short attention span and
often losing interest in long conversations. Moreover, disorientation
develops and those with Alzheimer's may get lost in their own street.
Problems with language may also prevent coherent conversations. The
affected person may not speak grammatically correct and talk in a
child-like manner. They may substitute forgotten words for vague
descriptions or make up new words.
The simple understanding and judgement of sufferers becomes impaired
and they can make the wrong choices. For example, wearing warm clothes
on a hot day, wearing Bermuda shorts on a winter's day or waking up at
awkward hours to do household tasks.
The mathematical knowledge the people with Alzheimer's have
deteriorates. They do not understand what the numbers are for and how
to manipulate them. Tasks like managing finances become impossible.
Rapid and dramatic mood swings are also a common occurrence. A person
may change from anger to tears to glee to disappointment in a short
while. This seriously affects the person's personality
Eventually the sufferer will become unaware of the outside world. They
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care and then die. However, the rate at which the number of brain
cells decreases at widely different rates. The illness can therefor
vary between 3 and 20 years.
Nobody knows exactly what causes Alzheimer's disease. Researchers
believe that Amyloid plaques and Neurofibrillary tangles hold the key.
Abnormal metabolism of APP has been linked to the formation of these
tangles. These plaques and tangles form between and inside neurones
and render those cells useless. Scientists have identified that there
are risk factors. These include genetics, where the sufferers have
inherited the disease (familial Alzheimer's) and are more likely to
get it early on in life. High cholesterol intake, family history and
blood pressure are also risk factors but results of tests are
inconclusive. Research is still continuing to find answers.
A-level text book - Mammalian Physiology