Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

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Understanding Alzheimer's Disease


Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disease
that destroys mental and physical functioning in human beings, and
invariably leads to death. It is the fourth leading cause of adult death in
the United States. Alzheimer's creates emotional and financial catastrophe
for many American families every year. Fortunately, a large amount of
progress is being made to combat Alzheimer's disease every year.

To fully be able to comprehend and combat Alzheimer's disease, one
must know what it does to the brain, the part of the human body it most
greatly affects. Many Alzheimer's disease sufferers had their brains
examined. A large number of differences were present when comparing the
normal brain to the Alzheimer's brain. There was a loss of nerve cells from
the Cerebral Cortex in the Alzheimer's victim. Approxiately ten percent of
the neurons in this region were lost. But a ten percent loss is relatively
minor, and cannot account for the severe impairment suffered by Alzheimer's
victims.

Neurofibrillary Tangles are also found in the brains of Alzheimer's
victims. They are found within the cell bodies of nerve cells in the
cerebral cortex, and take on the structure of a paired helix. Other
diseases that have "paired helixes" include Parkinson's disease, Down's
Syndrome, and Dementia Pugilistica. Scientists are not sure how the paired
helixes are related in these very different diseases.

Neuritic Plaques are patches of clumped material lying outside the
bodies of nerve cells in the brain. They are mainly found in the cerebral
cortex, but have also been seen in other areas of the brain. At the core of
each of these plaques is a substance called amyloid, an abnormal protein
not usually found in the brain. This amyloid core is surrounded by cast off
fragments of dead or dying nerve cells. The cell fragments include dying
mitochondria, presynaptic terminals, and paired helical filaments identical
to those that are neurofibrillary tangles. Many neuropathologists think
that these plaques are basically clusters of degenerating nerve cells. But
they are still not sure of how and why these fragments clustered together.

Congophilic Angiopathy is the technical name that neuropathologists
have given to an abnormality found in the walls of blood vessels in the
brains of victims of Alzheimer's disease. These abnormal patches are
similar to the neuritic plaques that develop in Alzheimer's disease, in
that amyloid has been found within the blood-vessel walls wherever the
patches occur. Another name for these patches is cerebrovascular amyloid,

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meaning amyloid found in the blood vessels of the brains.

Acetylcholine is a substance that carries signals from one nerve cell
to another. It is known to be important to learning and memory. In the mid
1970s, scientists found that the brains of those afflicted with Alzheimer's
disease contained sixty to ninety percent less of the enzyme choline
acetyltransferase(CAT), which is responsible for producing acetylcholine,
than did the brains of healthy persons. This was a great milestone, as it
was the first functional change related to learning and memory, and not to
different structures.

Somatostatin is another means by which cells in the brain communicate
with each other. The quantities of this chemical messenger, like those of
CAT, are also greatly decreased in the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus
of persons with Alzheimer's disease, almost to the same degree as CAT is
lost.

Although scientists have been able to identify many of these, and
other changes, they are not yet sure as to how, or why they take place in
Alzheimer's disease. One could say, that they have most of the pieces of
the puzzle; all that is left to do is find the missing piece and decipher
the meaning.

If treatment is required for someone with Alzheimer's disease, then
the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association(ADRDA), a
privately funded, national, non- profit organization dedicated to easing
the burden of Alzheimer victims and their families and finding a cure can
be contacted. There are more than one hundred and sixty chapters throughout
the country, and over one thousand support groups that can be contacted for
help. ADRDA fights Alzheimer's on five fronts 1- funding research 2-
educating and thus increase public awareness 3- establishing chapters with
support groups 4- encouraging federal and local legislation to help victims
and their families 5- providing a service to help victims and their
families find the proper care they need.
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