Team:UCL/Background/Alzheimers

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<p class="major_title">WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S?</p>
<p class="major_title">WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S?</p>
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It is mainly ‘late-onset’, arising after the age of 60, though rarer early onset types exist. Because there are other forms of dementia and other means of memory impairment, AD can only be verified post-mortem by examining the deceased’s brain.
It is mainly ‘late-onset’, arising after the age of 60, though rarer early onset types exist. Because there are other forms of dementia and other means of memory impairment, AD can only be verified post-mortem by examining the deceased’s brain.
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<p class="minor_title">Symptoms</p>
<p class="minor_title">Symptoms</p>

Latest revision as of 15:09, 19 September 2013

WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S?

A Form Of Dementia

Dementia is an age related neurodegenerative condition, characterised by failure of recent memory and intellectual functions (attention, language, visual-spatial orientation, abstract thinking, judgement), and tends to progress steadily (Weintraub et al. 2012). These changes are due to the mounting dysfunction and death of brain cells, called neurons, which are responsible for the storage and computation of information. Late stages of the disease often see patients bedridden, mute and incontinent. Although some drugs can temporarily improve memory, pharmaceutical research, through enlightening, has been clinically unsuccessful. At present there are no treatments that can halt, let alone revert, the inexorable progression of dementia. The treatments that do exist are purely symptomatic (Citron 2010).

Prevalence

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common of the dementias, afflicting 5-10% of the US population over 45, and 2% of the population in industrialised countries (Mattson 2004). It is predicted that its incidence will rocket up threefold 50 years from now (http://www.alz.org). It is mainly ‘late-onset’, arising after the age of 60, though rarer early onset types exist. Because there are other forms of dementia and other means of memory impairment, AD can only be verified post-mortem by examining the deceased’s brain.

Symptoms

In the early stages of AD may suffer lapses in their memory and struggle to find the correct words and expressions. As the patient grows older, the disease worsens and they become increasingly confused, forgetting names, faces, dates, times, etc (Sharma 2012). They tend to experience mood swings and commonly sadness, fear as well as becoming irate as their memory loss increases. This commonly engenders social withdrawal and can make carrying out everyday tasks much more demanding. As the disease runs near the end of its course and the patients’ lives, they will require help and focused care from those around them - friends, family and health professionals, in order to continue to enjoy their lives to the best of their ability.

The abilities to think, feel and imagine of those affected will diminish; The patients’ sense of self, personality, even their ability to swallow, will all degrade. AD also frequently has a traumatising effect on family members and close friends. As life expectancies increase, this state of life is set to grow much more common (Ferri et al. 2005). It is a truly terrifying condition, and throughout our research we have been amazed by how hard many spirited sufferers, their family and their friends, struggle against the disease and continue to make the best of themselves.

Research

It may then seem surprising that research efforts into cancer treatments dwarf dementia research (Bonin-Guillaume 2005). Pharmaceutical companies have recently more or less halted their efforts to search for pharmacological solution for AD. This has inspired some scientists to consider novel approaches to combating AD. We see synthetic biology as one of those fields, but new avenues of neuro-genetic research could well bring about genetic modification of the brain for more than just medical reasons.

More information

More information about the condition, including current research, and advice about coping with and caring for AD patients can be found through the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Disease International and the Alzheimer’s Association.