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Alzheimer's Disease

About 4.5 million American's suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a number that is expected to quadruple by 2050 as the population ages. Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia. Although there is currently no cure for the disease, Ruth Kandel, M.D., director of the Outpatient Memory Disorders Clinic at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, says treatments are available to help with some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's and new drugs are being studied to modify progression of the disease.        

Definition

A progressive neurologic disease of the brain that leads to irreversible loss of neurons and to dementia.

Causes
  • Death and destruction of brain cells
  • Accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques between neurons, which damages healthy brain cells and surrounding tissue
  • Neurofibrillary tangles, which are found inside of neurons
  • Inflammatory responses that are the body's response to injury

Symptoms

  • Increasing, persistent forgetfulness
  • Difficulties with abstract thinking, such as balancing a checkbook
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Loss of judgment
  • Difficulty performing tasks
  • Personality changes
  • Language difficulties
  • Inability to follow directions
  • Depression
Risk Factors
  • Age - average age of diagnosis is 80
  • Heredity
  • Physical examination
  • Mental status testing
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Neuropsychological testing
Treatment
  • Medications to treat depression and behavioral problems
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors
  • Memantine (for moderate to advanced disease)
  • Memory aids such as lists of daily activities
  • Monitoring wandering
  • Providing structure
  • Enhancing communication
  • Creating a safe environment
Glossary

Beta-amyloid plaques - buildup of beta-amyloid, a sticky protein, that clumps together and may cause a decline incognitive abilities.

Cholinesterase inhibitors - a group of drugs prescribed to treat symptoms resulting from the early and middle stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan - a noninvasive diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images of the body, showing detailed images of bone, muscle, fat and organs.

Dementia - the loss of intellectual and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies and computers to produce detailed images of organs and structures in the body.

Memantine - a drug for the treatment of moderate and advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Mental status exam - tests to determine a person's problem solving skills, attention span, counting skills, and memory.

Neurofibrillary tangles - accumulation of abnormally formed tau protein in nerve cells of the brain.

Neurons - cells throughout the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

Neuropsychological testing - examinations that study the relationship between the brain and behavior.

Links
Alzheimer's Association
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke  

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