Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disease that destroys mental and physical functioning in human beings, and invariably leads to death. It is the fourth leading cause of adult death in the United States. Alzheimer’s creates emotional and financial catastrophe for many American families every year. Fortunately, a large amount of progress is being made to combat Alzheimer’s disease every year. To fully be able to comprehend and combat Alzheimer’s disease, one must know what it does to the brain, the part of the human body it most greatly affects. Many Alzheimer’s disease sufferers had their brains examined. A large number of differences were present when comparing the normal brain to the Alzheimer’s brain.
There was a loss of nerve cells from the Cerebral Cortex in the Alzheimer’s victim. Approximately ten percent of the neurons in this region were lost. But a ten percent loss is relatively minor, and cannot account for the severe impairment suffered by Alzheimer’s victims. Neurofibrillary Tangles are also found in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. They are found within the cell bodies of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, and take on the structure of a paired helix. Other diseases that have “paired helixes” include Parkinson’s disease, Down’s Syndrome, and Dementia Pugilistica. Scientists are not sure how the paired helixes are related in these very different diseases.
Neuritic Plaques are patches of clumped material lying outside the bodies of nerve cells in the brain. They are mainly found in the cerebral cortex, but have also been seen in other areas of the brain. At the core of each of these plaques is a substance called amyloid, an abnormal protein not usually found in the brain. This amyloid core is surrounded by cast off fragments of dead or dying nerve cells. The cell fragments include dying mitochondria, presynaptic terminals, and paired helical filaments identical to those that are neurofibrillary tangles. Many neuropathologists think that these plaques are basically clusters of degenerating nerve cells. But they are still not sure of how and why these fragments clustered together.
Congophilic Angiopathy is the technical name that neuropathologists have given to an abnormality found in the walls of blood vessels in the brains of victims of Alzheimer’s disease. These abnormal patches are similar to the neuritic plaques that develop in Alzheimer’s disease, in that amyloid has been found within the blood-vessel walls wherever the patches occur. Another name for these patches is cerebrovascular amyloid, meaning amyloid found in the blood vessels of the brains. Acetylcholine is a substance that carries signals from one nerve cell to another. It is known to be important to learning and memory. In the mid 1970s, scientists found that the brains of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease contained sixty to ninety percent less of the enzyme choline acetyltransferase(CAT), which is responsible for producing acetylcholine, than did the brains of healthy persons. This was a great milestone, as it was the first functional change related to learning and memory, and not to different structures.
Somatostatin is another means by which cells in the brain communicate with each other. The quantities of this chemical messenger, like those of CAT, are also greatly decreased in the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, almost to the same degree as CAT is lost. Although scientists have been able to identify many of these, and other changes, they are not yet sure as to how, or why they take place in Alzheimer’s disease. One could say, that they have most of the pieces of the puzzle; all that is left to do is find the missing piece and decipher the meaning. If treatment is required for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, then the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association(ADRDA), a privately funded, national, non- profit organization dedicated to easing the burden of Alzheimer victims and their families and finding a cure can be contacted. There are more than one hundred and sixty chapters throughout the country, and over one thousand support groups that can be contacted for help.
ADRDA fights Alzheimer’s on five fronts 1- funding research 2- educating and thus increase public awareness 3- establishing chapters with support groups 4- encouraging federal and local legislation to help victims and their families 5- providing a service to help victims and their families find the proper care they need.