Alzheimer’s Disease Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disease that destroys mental andphysical functioning in human beings, and invariably leads to death. It is the fourth leadingcause of adult death in the United States.
Alzheimer’s creates emotional and financialcatastrophe for many American families every year. Fortunately, a large amount of progressis being made to combat Alzheimer’s disease every year. To fully be able to comprehend and combat Alzheimer’s disease, one must know what itdoes to the brain, the part of the human body it most greatly affects. Many Alzheimer’sdisease sufferers had their brains examined.
A large number of differences were presentwhen comparing the normal brain to the Alzheimer’s brain. There was a loss of nerve cellsfrom the Cerebral Cortex in the Alzheimer’s victim. Approximately ten percent of theneurons in this region were lost. But a ten percent loss is relatively minor, and cannotaccount for the severe impairment suffered by Alzheimer’s victims. Neurofibrillary Tangles are also found in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. They are foundwithin the cell bodies of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, and take on the structure of apaired helix.
Other diseases that have “paired helixes” include Parkinson’s disease, Down’sSyndrome, and Dementia Pugilistica. Scientists are not sure how the paired helixes arerelated in these very different diseases. Neuritic Plaques are patches of clumped material lying outside the bodies of nerve cells inthe brain. They are mainly found in the cerebral cortex, but have also been seen in otherareas of the brain. At the core of each of these plaques is a substance called amyloid, anabnormal protein not usually found in the brain. This amyloid core is surrounded by cast offfragments of dead or dying nerve cells. The cell fragments include dying mitochondria,presynaptic terminals, and paired helical filaments identical to those that are neurofibrillarytangles. Many neuropathologists think that these plaques are basically clusters ofdegenerating nerve cells.
But they are still not sure of how and why these fragmentsclustered together. Congophilic Angiopathy is the technical name that neuropathologists have given to anabnormality found in the walls of blood vessels in the brains of victims of Alzheimer’sdisease. These abnormal patches are similar to the neuritic plaques that develop inAlzheimer’s disease, in that amyloid has been found within the blood-vessel walls whereverthe patches occur. Another name for these patches is cerebrovascular amyloid, meaningamyloid found in the blood vessels of the brains. Acetylcholine is a substance that carries signals from one nerve cell to another. It is knownto be important to learning and memory. In the mid 1970s, scientists found that the brains ofthose afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease contained sixty to ninety percent less of the enzymecholine acetyltransferase(CAT), which is responsible for producing acetylcholine, than didthe brains of healthy persons.
This was a great milestone, as it was the first functionalchange related to learning and memory, and not to different structures. Somatostatin is another means by which cells in the brain communicate with each other. Thequantities of this chemical messenger, like those of CAT, are also greatly decreased in thecerebral cortex and the hippocampus of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, almost to thesame degree as CAT is lost. Although scientists have been able to identify many of these, and other changes, they arenot yet sure as to how, or why they take place in Alzheimer’s disease. One could say, thatthey have most of the pieces of the puzzle; all that is left to do is find the missing piece anddecipher the meaning. If treatment is required for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, then the Alzheimer’s Diseaseand Related Disorders Association(ADRDA), a privately funded, national, non- profitorganization dedicated to easing the burden of Alzheimer victims and their families andfinding a cure can be contacted. There are more than one hundred and sixty chaptersthroughout the country, and over one thousand support groups that can be contacted forhelp. ADRDA fights Alzheimer’s on five fronts 1- funding research 2- educating and thusincrease public awareness 3- establishing chapters with support groups 4- encouragingfederal and local legislation to help victims and their families 5- providing a service to helpvictims and their families find the proper care they need.