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Didyou know that “Alzheimer’sdisease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined?” Itis the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and yet many people arestill uneducated on the facts about this disease. “Alzheimer’s is a progressive and neurodegenerative braindisease. It is the most common form of dementia among older people, accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases.” Dementiais not a disease of its own but a term used for the decline in a person’s memoryand mental state. According to the Alzheimer’s association: “more than fivemillion Americas are living with the disease today and this number could riseas high as sixteen million by 2050.
” With thenumber of Americans being effected on the rise, I hope this will better informyou about this devastating disease and what causes it.Alzheimer’sbegins slowly, with early symptoms like forgetfulness,confusion, or depression. Someone in the early stages of this disease mightseem to forget your name or have trouble recalling recent conversations you had.Overtime, as the disease worsens, the symptoms will worsen as well, including “impaired communication, poor judgment,disorientation, serious confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking,swallowing and walking.” Often in the later stages of Alzheimer’s the person cannotcare for themselves and should not live alone. While the majority of peoplewith Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, it is not limited to that age. “Surprisingly,there are 200,000 people under the age of 65 that have been diagnosed withyounger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, having symptoms starting as early as their fortiesand fifties.
” So, what could be the cause of this devastating disease?Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in the brainyears or even decades before any symptoms are actually shown. Thebrain is the most powerful, complex, and important organ in the human body. Ourbrain is what controls our actions, allows us to think, feel, have memories,and so much more. The brain controls everything in the body, even when we aresleeping. The adult brain contains100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, which carry out all brain function. Every neuron holds a different and veryimportant job. Neurons connect to one another at the spaces between them calledsynapses, communicating through electrical charges that travel down axonscausing the release of chemicals, or neurotransmitters, to other neurons.
In a healthybrain all sensations, memories, movement, and feelings are the result ofsignals that pass through the nerve cells. There are dozens of neurotransmittersand 100 trillion synapses in a normal brain. However, Alzheimer’s tissue has fewer nerve cells andsynapses than a healthy brain. Accordingto the Alzheimer’s association, “Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain’sneurons and disrupts both the way electrical charges travel within cells andthe activity of neurotransmitters.
” When neurons cannot communicate,learning and memory are impaired. The neurons eventually die, causing the brainto shrink and become less functional. The cortex will shrivel up, causingdamage to the area involved in thinking, planning, and remembering.
The hippocampusis the area of the cortex that shrinks the most. It plays a key role in memory which is why most peopleassociate Alzheimer’s with memory loss. Also, the ventricles, which arethe fluid-filled spaces within the brain, will grow larger.