Introduction to the Disease


What is Alzheimer’s?


Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder named for German physician Alois Alzheimer who first encountered it in 1906 and later documented it in his medical literature in 1907. In 1910, Emil Kraepelin, a psychiatrist noted for his work in naming and classifying brain disorders, proposed that the disease be named after Alzheimer.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss which interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50-70% of dementia cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, mixed dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease which destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and problems with thinking and behavior. These symptoms affect an individuals work, hobbies and social life. The disease gets worse over time and it is ultimately fatal. Today it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States and there are approximately 35 millions people living with Alzheimer’s worldwide. Typically an Alzheimer’s sufferer will live 8-10 years after diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease has no current cure but there are treatments for symptoms which combined with supportive services can make life better for those living with Alzheimer’s.

There is an accelerating worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, or prevent it from developing.

Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells.

Plaques build up between nerve cells. They contain deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyd). Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau (rhymes with “wow”).

Tangles form inside dying cells. Though most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, those with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more. The plaques and tangles tend to form in a predictable pattern, beginning in areas important in learning and memory and then spreading to other regions. Scientists are not absolutely sure what role plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer’s disease. Most experts believe they somehow block communication among nerve cells and disrupt activities that cells need to survive.

Early-stage and young-onset Alzheimer’s disease

Early-stage is the early part of Alzheimer’s disease when problems with memory, thinking and concentration may begin to appear in a doctor’s interview or medical tests. Individuals in the early-stage typically need minimal assistance with simple daily routines. At the time of a diagnosis, an individual is not necessarily in the early stage of the disease; he or she may have progressed beyond the early stage.

The term younger-onset refers to Alzheimer’s that occurs in a person under age 65. Younger-onset individuals may be employed or have children still living at home. Issues facing families include ensuring financial security, obtaining benefits and helping children cope with the disease. People who have younger-onset dementia may be in any stage of dementia – early, middle or late. Experts estimate that some 500,000 people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

Recent Developments

>> Read "Hope for Alzheimer's treatment as researchers find licensed drugs halt brain degeneration" on the Guardian
>> Read "Has Stanford University found a cure for Alzheimer's disease?" on the Telegraph