Every September 21st is World Alzheimer's Day, and the entire month of September is proclaimed World Alzheimer's Month by an international campaign of Alzheimer's Disease International to raise awareness and break stigma around this topic of this difficult disease.
What is Alzheimer's?
This chronic illness is the process of steeply declining symptons of dementia affecting the brain to where memory and thinking is lost, as well as abilities to do other everyday tasks.
The National Health Service of United Kingdom National Health Service writes,
Alzheimer's disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. Although it's not known exactly what causes this process to begin, scientists now know that it begins many years before symptoms appear.
As brain cells become affected, there's also a decrease in chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) involved in sending messages, or signals, between brain cells. Levels of one neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, are particularly low in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
Over time, different areas of the brain shrink. The first areas usually affected are responsible for memories. In more unusual forms of Alzheimer's disease, different areas of the brain are affected.
From The Brain
The Mayo Clinic writes that while exact reasons are not yet known, the proteins involved in the process are recognized and are being researched.
The exact causes of Alzheimer's disease aren't fully understood, but at its core are problems with brain proteins that fail to function normally, disrupt the work of brain cells (neurons) and unleash a series of toxic events. Neurons are damaged, lose connections to each other and eventually die.
The damage most often starts in the region of the brain that controls memory, but the process begins years before the first symptoms. The loss of neurons spreads in a somewhat predictable pattern to other regions of the brains. By the late stage of the disease, the brain has shrunk significantly.
Researchers are focused on the role of two proteins:
- Plaques. Beta-amyloid is a leftover fragment of a larger protein. When these fragments cluster together, they appear to have a toxic effect on neurons and to disrupt cell-to-cell communication. These clusters form larger deposits called amyloid plaques, which also include other cellular debris.
- Tangles. Tau proteins play a part in a neuron's internal support and transport system to carry nutrients and other essential materials. In Alzheimer's disease, tau proteins change shape and organize themselves into structures called neurofibrillary tangles. The tangles disrupt the transport system and are toxic to cells.
In simpler terms, the largest found issues that are the core of the development of Alzheimer's are with the brain proteins. Their failure to complete their tasks cause neurons to be thrown in disarray, which then are damaged.
This is significantly detrimental, as neurons are the fundamental units of the brain; in basic terms, their purpose is to recieve information and direct signals to other neurons in rapid system. They can very much be seen as the messengers- but when those deliveries fail, the entire body begins to deteriorate.
Possible Reasons & Factors
There is no clear reason as to why this disease occurs, but one of the biggest well-known cause is age. According to Alzheimer's Association, the vast majority of those with Alzheimer's are over the age of 65. However, many also are diagnosed at the age below 65, also known as early-onset Alzheimer's.
Aside from abnormal protein build-up and age, NHS lists genetics as a possible contributing factor to this disease, although the actual increase in risk is not so high.
NHS additionally published that those with Down Syndrome also are at higher risk of Alzheimer's Disease, as "the genetic fault that causes Down's syndrome can also cause amyloid plaques to build up in the brain over time, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease in some people."
Research also shows, NHS notes, that cardiovascular disease can be counted as a factor in growing the risk of this disease. NHS writes those with smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol may be at high risk.
Last but not least, surprsingly, many scientists suspect severe head injury may be linked to risks of Alzheimer's, although the research in this speculation is scarce and needs more concentration.
According to National Institute on Aging of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the first signs of Alzheimer's can be quite varied and depends on each person and case.
The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person. Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s disease. Decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may also signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. And some people may be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
As the disease progresses, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. Alzheimer’s disease progresses in several stages: preclinical, mild (sometimes called early-stage), moderate, and severe (sometimes called late-stage).
What Will Change?
The Mayo Clinic lists memory loss as its biggest change, such as failure to recall recent events and talk. They list that:
People with Alzheimer's may:
- Repeat statements and questions over and over
- Forget conversations, appointments or events, and not remember them later
- Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
- Get lost in familiar places
- Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
- Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations
Multitasking will become a challenge for those with Alzheimer's, and so will the ability to make decisions and choices.
The brain changes that occur during this form of dementia can also see effects in someone's personality; The Mayo Clinic lists that one could possibly experience:
Depression, Apathy, Social withdrawal, Mood swings, Distrust in others, Irritability and aggressiveness, Changes in sleeping habits, Wandering, Loss of inhibitions, Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen
Preservation of Certain Skills
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, not all will be lost quickly. Certain preserved skills may last for longer time, as those areas are stored in the parts of the brain much later affected than others. This can include skills such as art, reading, singing, and more.
Can This Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, there is no clear vaccine nor treatment to cure this disorder, but The Mayo Clinic has published some methods that can be tried to modify the amount of risk. Efforts to keep a healthy diet, regular exercise, proper management of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, and a non-smoking routine are a recommended step in a much reduced risk.
Join The Cause
To support the mission of Alzheimer's awareness and stigma-breakage, be sure to join the cause of the below organizations and charities:
This is widely known as the largest non-profit in dedication to Alzheimer's. Their vision is "A world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.™" and their mission is "The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support." They have many volunteering, advocating, and event participation opportunities, which you can find here.
This national foundation brings together researchers and donors with invests in neurological and brain disorder research. At the time of this publication, their stats include $27M awarded to 244 researchers and 28 active research projects. To support their mission, click here.
Cure Alzheimer's: (also known as Alzheimer's Disease Research Foundation)
CureAlz was founded by Jeff Morby, Jacqui Morby, Henry McCance, and Phyllis Rappaport after much low and lack of funding for this disease. Since its creation in 2004, CureAlz has donated over $110,000,000 to research, with its fundings a key in breakthrough discoveries. Learn more about their story here.
Founded in 2002 by a caregiver whose personal experience with his mother's passing from the disease, AFA's mission is to be a resource to families and runs a National Toll-Free Helpline (866-232-8484), and a National Memory Screening Program. Learn more about AFA here.
This organization provides day-care service and on-site programs in Orange County, offers free caregiveer counseling with the Archstone Foundation grant, and hosts community education events.
Show Your Support
Social Media: a simple way to show your support is to change your profile picture to an END ALZ Icon. Simply google "end alz icon" to find the image.
Exercise and Help: find a Walk to End Alzheimer's event near you here.
Purple: this shade is the color that symbolizes Alzheimer's support. Wear this color to show your support!