CogniFit's Science blog: The Sad Facts Behind Alzheimer’s

The Sad Facts Behind Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s…it’s a word that brings chills to the skin and fear to the imagination. It has easily become the most well-known form of dementia and the most common cause for people aged 65 and older. And with an estimated 4 million people living with the disease in the United States alone, it is sadly a number that is only growing.

One in ten people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s and nearly half of those over the age of 85 have the disease. As mentioned, it is by no means a number that is slowing down at any rate with around 50,000 new diagnoses per year. And if you don’t think it is a serious disease, just consider the fact that 50,000 reportedly die from it annually.

The best way to treat the disease is through prevention and early detection. Most people will begin to notice symptoms after the age of 60, but some early-onset forms linked to specific gene defects can appear as early as the age of 30. It will slowly cause a gradual decline in cognitive abilities that span 7 to 10 years.

The primary area of concern is the brain as it affects nearly all functions within including memory, movement, language, judgment, behavior and abstract thinking. The two abnormalities Alzheimer’s is most characterized by are amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

Amyloid plaques are found in the tissue between the nerve cells and consist of unusual clumps of a protein called beta amyloid. Neurofibrillary tangles consist of bundles of twisted filaments that are found within neurons. With the disease, the protein that makes up these tangles is changed causing it to twist into pairs of helical filaments that lead to the collapse of the neuron’s transport system.

Every case is different as some people experience minor symptoms while others are hit often and hard. Early stages can consist of memory impairment, lapses of judgment and subtle changes in personality. Over time the memory and language problems will worsen and patients will have trouble performing basic activities on a daily basis.

It is not uncommon for disorientation to occur and for delusions to settle in. And even the nicest of people can become short-tempered and hostile. By the end, patients will lose the ability to control motor functions and can even have difficulty swallowing or controlling their bladder and bowel movements.

It is worth noting again that every case and every patient is different. On average, people live for 8 to 10 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. However, there are some that live as long as 20 years. Further treatment options are continuously being searched for, but the current cause of death is often from aspiration pneumonia because they lose the ability to swallow.