Alzheimer’s disease is a common disease across the world. It is characterized with progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility.
Alzheimer’s happens because of the death of nerves cells in the brain. The disease is often associated with symptoms under the guise of impaired memory, confusion, personality and behavioral changes, speech deterioration, impassivity or emotional detachment, and weakened judgment
The disorder mostly affects adults over the age of 60 years and above but studies have shown that Alzheimer’s may affect even the young as early as 19 years of age; however, at a very small scale. This disease is the main type of dementia and has affected over 5.7 million people in America, as stated by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Alzheimer’s is characterized differently from other forms of dementia, such as, by the alteration in the brain which is seen using a microscopic by closer examination during autopsy. Dementia caused as a result of other neurological disorders makes up to 15 to 40 percent of all cases. These cases include strokes, Lewy bodies, and Parkinson’s disease.
Precise Data Is Challenging to Obtain
Precise data on Alzheimer’s cases has shown to be challenging to obtain, as there is no national regulation of the disease and there is a distorted separation between mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s or other dementia because the changes are not critical enough to affect the daily life of a person with mild cognitive impairment. Many health surveys have used the various baselines to impress the numbers. Nevertheless, in later years, it has been predicted that there will be a two and a half increase in Alzheimer’s dementia occurrences among the aging population.
Age is a considerable factor that relates to Alzheimer’s, but individuals with a family history of this disease, prevalently having the ApoE4 (apolipoprotein) gene variants are much more likely to having Alzheimer’s. Leading a healthy lifestyle and a making conscious decisions on health-related activities, such as, exercising, eating healthy, and maintaining a mental and socially active lifestyle, may reduce the factors that lead to dementia.
Causes of the Disease
Medical researchers have not really given an accurate cause of Alzheimer’s disease and neither do they fully understand the abnormal changes in the brain resulting in the disorder. However, age, family history, personal health, genetics, and abnormal protein disposition in the brain are believed to all be potential causes of the disease.
There are higher risk factors of the disease among women; two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients are women. Probably because of their high population or the fact that women outlive men. These are just propositions and findings done to back up the reasons. Although the age factor between women and men is still the same, meaning a 75-years-old has the same risk regardless the sex and possibly the change in hormone levels in women may be a contributing factor.
A greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease is higher among African-Americans and Hispanics than whites. Johns Hopkins researcher, Dr. Juan Troncoso who has studied the disease in African-Americans stated that the differences in prevalence between the races could be because of multiple factors such as the difference in culture, background, and education. Strokes (vascular dementia), high blood pressure and diabetes tend to be more prevalent among the African- Americans and these factors increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Cost of Care for Alzheimer’s
The disease has been tagged as the most expensive in America, more than heart-related diseases and cancer. It is estimated that in 2018 alone, the cost of healthcare directly related to the care of Alzheimer’s patients to the American Society is about $277 Billion dollars. With the aging population, the cost of management will also escalate. Most of the expenditures are related to the nursing homes or healthcare facilities. The economic value of the care provided by unpaid caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias was estimated at $232 Billion in 2017
Alzheimer has been recorded as one of the top leading causes of death in the United States, and is one of those diseases that have no cure or means to slow it down. The increase rate of the disease has perhaps compelled physicians to improve the means of doing a better job diagnosing the disease.
Another significant cost related to Alzheimer’s is the cost of drug production and clinical trials. In 12 years (2002-2012), drugs for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease were clinically tried but only one – Memantine – out of 244 drugs, was approved by the FDA. That only temporarily raised the number of drugs available to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s patients.
Scientific Understanding Deepens
Fortunately, in recent researches, progressive and positive input has been attributed to clinical studies. Scientist now believes that there is a pre-clinical stage where the disease is stable and ongoing for 20 years and even more. Pathological changes in the brain can cause patients to be asymptomatic though in most cases patients show symptoms during early diagnosis.
The changes in the brain, such as, the aggregates of protein adding up to form many layers of protein, linked to the onset of disease. This pathogenic amyloid-formed plaque in the brain is the biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease and it is measured through PET scan (positron-emission tomography) or spinal fluid analysis.
In today’s case development, biomarkers testing is used to measure diseases before symptoms start to show, but while they benefit individuals proactively for lifestyle adjustments, they are still not covered by health insurance companies. Medical scientists are hoping to develop more affordable and less intrusive tests for those most at risk of this life-threatening disease.
Now more recently, many positive results have been achieved in understanding the pathogenesis of the disease and there is a lot of positive expectation in developing preventive measures. If the onsets of the disease are delayed for some years that would be a huge win for the medical society.
Hope for the future
The projection of the disease is heart-wrenching; the disease will still affect a large part of our society, namely our seniors. The hope is in the fact that researchers found a turning point where new cases of dementia had decreased. There are reduced cases of strokes and heart attacks than in previous years which give evidence to hope for a possible solution for Alzheimer’s.
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