Facts and Statistics About Alzheimer's Disease

General facts about Alzheimer's disease, the course of decline, and the current state of research. The article encourages support of research.

1. What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys the victim’s ability to remember facts, events, and personal information. As the disease progresses it takes away the ability to recognize associates, to talk, to walk, and to understand speech. On autopsy the brain is found to have amyloid plaques that appear to interrupt the processing of information. The brain also displays neurofibrillary tangles which are structures from inside the neuron that have become entangled in masses and no longer have the ability to process information.

2. When was Alzheimer’s first identified?

Alzheimer’s disease was first described by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Dr. Alzheimer had a patient named Augusta D. whose symptoms he described in detail. After her death, he secured from the family permission to examine her brain in an autopsy. He identified the structures that remain the identifying characteristics of a brain affected by the disease named for him. He presented a paper describing the characteristics and appearance of the brain in 1906 to a medical convention. The disease was name for him in 1911.

3. What is the first presenting symptom?

The initial symptoms may seem a normal consequence of aging or stress—forgetfulness; however, from simple oversights, the impairment of memory progresses to total memory blanks, loss of personal identity, and the ability to talk, walk, sit or stand. When short term memory is destroyed, the brain loses the ability to store new information. With information stored in long term memory, the problem becomes one of retrieval: Even if the information is stored, the person has lost the mechanism to access it. At later stages the patient forgets to eat, and even how to eat. They may put clothes on but do it wrong—pajamas over a suit or a jacket on backwards. Some patients experience a severe personality change, have hallucinations, or become violent.

4. What treatment is currently available?

Cholinesterase inhibitors are the main treatment. These substances do not reverse or stop the progress of the disease, but they may slow it for a while. It is hopeful that the medications may be able to give a better quality of life for, but at this time, nothing will reverse or stop the progress of the disease.

5. Is it terminal?

Alzheimer’s disease is terminal. It progresses through the brain systems beginning with the structures involved in short term memory. Every activity of the body is controlled in the brain. As the subsequent systems are affected, the patient loses all voluntary and reflexive control. Alzheimer’s disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

6. How long will an individual survive after diagnosis?

How long a patient with AD will live varies greatly. For people who are not diagnosed until late in the disease, the time will be reduced. Many people live ten years and some may even live twenty years. The rate at which decline happens varies also.

7. How many Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is increasing in our population. Currently there are 5.3 million people who are living with the disease in the United States and 200,000 of them are below the age of 65. One reason for the rise in the percentage of people who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease may be because of the rise in the average age of the American population. Alzheimer’s disease and many other brain disorders show a cluster of symptoms, but a definitive diagnosis is only possible on autopsy. Researchers are still seeking evidence of a genetic link. The early onset Alzheimer’s disease does seem to have a genetic link. People with Down’s syndrome exhibit Alzheimer’s symptoms early.

The researchers and organizations dedicated to the study and treatment of Alzheimers solicit support from the general public and from the families and friends of those who are affected by this insidious disease.

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Posted on Jun 15, 2010