A Disease That Sneaks Up Biology Essay

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Alzheimers disease is a disease that sneaks up on its victims. These people are initially robbed of their short term memory, then eventually of all their ability to think and reason. It is a progressive and fatal brain disease. It is also the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease has no cure, but treatment for symptoms combined with the right services and support, can make life better for millions with the disease. Several risk factors have been identified in determining who is more susceptible to getting Alzheimer's. Increasing age is the greatest known risk factor. Most people with the disease are 65 years or older, and the longer they live their chances become even greater for acquiring the disease. Another risk factor is family history. If one happens to have a parent, sister, brother, or child with Alzheimer's, then they are more likely to develop the disease as well. Yet another risk factor is genetics. There are two categories of genes that play a role in determining whether a person develops the disease. The first of this gene is the "Risk gene". It increases the likelihood of developing the disease, but it's not guaranteed it will happen. The second is "Deterministic gene". This gene directly cause the disease, guaranteeing that everyone who inherits them will develop the disease. There may be other risk factors that we influence that help cause the disease. It could result from head injury, and heart- head connection. According to the "2010 Alzheimer's report, Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures", 5.3 million people are living with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia (Murali Doraiswamy, USA Today, 2010). New report shows that African-Americans and Hispanics are particularly vulnerable as they grow older. She also states, African-Americans are almost twice as likely as whites to have Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. And Hispanics are about one and a half times more likely to be stricken with in. Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer's Association's senior director of medical and scientific relations, says higher rates of diabetes and heart disease in African-Americans and Hispanic communities probably are linked to increased rates of dementia (Murali Doraiswamy, USA Today, 2010). Alzheimer's disease is not a Psychological disease, but a Physiological disease.

Like the rest of our body, our brain changes as we age. As we grow older, most of us notice some slow thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion, and other major changes in the way our minds work are not a normal part of aging. In Alzheimer's disease, increase number of brain cells deteriorate and die. In Alzheimer's, the prime suspect is a small protein called amyloid beta (Ab), which is a major component of the pathological plaques that stud the patients' brains (Jean Marx, Science). Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles play a major role in damaging and killing nerve cells. Plaques build up between nerve cells. They contain deposits of a protein fragment called amyloid -beta. Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau. Tangles form inside dying cells. Though most people tend to develop some plaques and tangles as they age, Alzheimer's patients tend to develop far more than most. These plaques and tangles tend to form in a predictable pattern, beginning in areas important in learning and memory and then spreading to other regions. Though most scientist are not absolutely sure about the role these structures play in Alzheimer's disease, they believe they somehow block communication among nerve cells and eventually kills them. Most Alzheimer's researchers have focused on the enzymes that free Ab from its precursor protein. By releasing too much Ab, overactive enzymes could lead to abnormal Ab production in the brain (Jean Marx, Science). New research has shown that protein clusters clog the brain of Alzheimer's patients and the hearts of people with heart failure. Toxic protein cluster's similar to beta amyloids, appear in the brains of patients with Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease, according to Jeffrey Robbins, PhD, director of molecular cardiovascular cardiology Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and colleagues (Browns University Geriatric Psychopharmacology Update, Aug. 2004). According to Robbins, beta amyloids cluster in the heart muscle cells of people with heart failure. These clumps look a lot like the clumps of beta amyloid that clog the brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative brain diseases. The normal heart uses one set of proteins to carry harmful proteins out of the heart muscle cells. But when the heart gets stressed, this system breaks down and the protein pile up in tangled, toxic clusters. In the middle of these clusters are beta amyloids. The researchers plan follow- up studies to address questions about what the presence of beta amyloids in the heart muscle cells mean and whether they might be a target for therapeutic intervention (Brown University Geriatric Psychopharmacology Update, Aug. 2004). Yet another method that allows Alzheimer's disease to be diagnosed is from brain scans. At present the only sure way to diagnose Alzheimer's is to check a patient's brain after death (Andy Coglan, New Scientist, 1/19/ 02). A team of researchers led by Jorge Barrio of the University of California at Las Angeles, in June 2001, showed PET scans of an Alzheimer's patient who had been injected with a radioactive fluorine- rich tracer. This highlights the plaques - localized area of damaged brain tissue that don't show up on routine scans. And following recent autopsies on Alzheimer's patients, they confirmed the accuracy of their technique. Another team led by Hank Kung at the University of Pennsylvania, has a new technique. Kung modified synthetic hydrocarbons called stilbenes that bind to Alzheimer's plaques. Attaching mildly radioactive isotopes to the stilbenes made them visible on the scans. In tests on mice, Kung proved that the stilbenes can infiltrate the brain. Only tiny quantities were involved, minimizing the radiation dose. He is certain that in five years, there'll be drugs which would delay or prevent excess development of plaques, which could save the brain (Andy Coglan, New Scientist, 1/19/02).

According to Maria Carrillo of the Alzheimer's Association, a lack of awareness by the community health resources deters disease education and prevention measures, and cultural attitudes. This includes respect for the elderly (not questioning the authority of a senior even if he or she exhibits symptoms of dementia) can be roadblocks to early diagnosis. Many people do not realize they have the power early on to reduce their risk of developing dementia, says Alzheimer's expert Steven DeKosky, senior vice president and dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine (USA Today, 2010). DeKosky notes that Medical center's struggle to find early - Alzheimer's patients to participate in drug studies, and that research has slowed. According to the new report which examined data from 2000 to 2006, deaths from Alzheimer's increased by 46% compared with heart disease deaths, which dropped by 11%; breast cancer deaths, which decreased by nearly 3%; and prostate cancer deaths, which dropped by nearly 9%. DeKosky says that even though families may suspect a loved one has dementia, they may be less likely to visit the doctor because they know there is no cure. Many are also not aware that medications can help with the symptoms says Carillo, who points out that for every person with Alzheimer's, one or more caretakers are juggling that patient's increasing health needs as the disease progresses. Alzheimer's disease patients live an average of four to six years and as many as 20 years (USA Today, 2010). Ways in which one can help prevent or slow the process of acquiring Alzheimer's disease is to "exercise, watch your lipids (cholesterol) and blood pressure, and abdominal girth", says DeKosky. "Exercise your brain, stay active, challenge yourself with puzzles like Sudoku. Don't do just passive sort of things".

Alzheimer's is classified in three stages- early, middle, and late stages- which takes no single pathway in all patients, but the average life span of a person after diagnosis is about seven years, say Alzheimer's expert Murali Doraiswamy professor at Duke University Medical Center. By the end the brain shuts down, leaving the patient unable to eat or breathe. For million family members and friends who according to the Alzheimer's Association, now care for loved one with the disease, coping with a diagnosis differs greatly from family as the disease progresses, says Beth Kallmyer sensor director of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago (USA, Today, 2010). "The reality is it's different for everybody. The way it impacts caregivers depends on the relationships they had with that person before", says Kallmeyer, who adds that the non-linear progression of the disease is most challenging. For caretakers living with those in later stages of the disease, the challenge can be greater. "As they move from the middle stage, they may need help with shaving and personal care. A family member may need to lay their clothes out", Kallmeyer says (USA, Today, 2010). The patient can't choose whether or not they get the disease, but the caregiver can choose his or her attitude. Patient behavior may vary from subdued to delusional and paranoid. Depending on the family resources a nursing home, day care center or in-home health aide may be needed. A social worker or aging agency can send someone to the home to assess what is needed at this time (USA, Today, 2010).

In conclusion, Alzheimer's disease is a disease that affects the brain cells. It kills healthy brain cells leaving the individual mentally and physically helpless. The individual go from being fully cognitive to being totally dependent on others for activities of daily living. Several risk factors that increase peoples chance of getting the disease are age, family history, and genetics. Several research have been made to find a cure for the disease, but no success has been made. There currently is no cure for the disease except for some medications that help slow the disease process. What is known is that plaques and tangles build up in active nerve cells and gradually robes the individual of their reasoning and thinking ability. Not too many people are educated on how to determine the warning signs of the disease. Even when they suspect that their loved ones may be exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, they fail to seek proper medical assistance. As the disease progress, caregivers get need more help in caring for their loved ones. This leads to the caregiver's life becoming more disruptive and can cause depression. Community resource that may be available depending on the family's resource are Nursing home, Day care center, or In -home health aide. Even though scientist are working extremely hard in order to find a cure, family's still have watch their loved ones gradually deteriorate and pass on. Alzheimer's disease is a physiological disease that will continue to affect millions of people due to increase longevity of our lives now.