Alzheimer's disease


Alzheimer's disease (AD), also called Alzheimer disease or simply Alzheimer's, is the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer's is a degenerative and terminal disease for which there is no known cure. In its most common form, it afflicts individuals over 65 years old, although a less prevalent early-onset form also exists. It is estimated that 26.6 million people worldwide were afflicted by AD in 2006, which could quadruple by 2050, although estimates vary greatly.


Each individual experiences the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in unique ways. Generally, the symptoms are reported to a physician when memory loss becomes apparent. If Alzheimer's is suspected as the cause, the physician or healthcare specialist will confirm the diagnosis with behavioral assessments and cognitive tests, often followed by a brain scan, if available.[4] The prognosis for an individual Alzheimer's patient is difficult to assess, as the duration of the disease varies per individual. Alzheimer's develops for an indeterminate period before becoming fully apparent, and can progress undiagnosed for years. The survival time after diagnosis is approximately 6 years, though it can be as long as 20 years in some cases. In the early stages, the most commonly recognised symptom is memory loss, such as the difficulty to remember recently learned facts. Earliest occurring symptoms are often mistaken as being noncritical age-related complaints, or forms of stress. As the disease advances, progressive symptoms include confusion, anger, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general withdrawal of the sufferer as his or her senses decline. Gradually, minor and major bodily functions are lost, leading ultimately to death.


The cause and progression of Alzheimer's disease are not well understood. Research indicates that the disease is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. No treatment has been found to stop or reverse the disease, and it is not known whether current treatments slow the progression, or simply manage the symptoms. Many preventive measures have been suggested for Alzheimer's disease, but their value is unproven in reducing the course and severity of the disease. Mental stimulation, exercise and a balanced diet are often recommended, both as a possible prevention and as a sensible way of managing the disease.


Because AD cannot be cured and is degenerative, management of the Alzheimer's patient is essential. The role of the main caregiver is often taken by the spouse or a close relative. Caregivers may themselves suffer from stress, over-work, depression, and being physically hit or struck.




Although the concept of dementia goes as far back as the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and physicians, it was in 1901 when Alöis Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist, identified the first case of what became known as Alzheimer's disease in a fifty-year-old woman he called Auguste D. Alöis Alzheimer followed her until she died in 1906, when he first reported the case publicly. In the following five years, eleven similar cases were reported in the medical literature, some of them already using the term Alzheimer's disease. The official consideration of the disease as a distinctive entity is attributed to Emil Kraepelin, who included Alzheimer’s disease or presenile dementia as a subtype of senile dementia in the eighth edition of his Textbook of Psychiatry, published in 1910.


For most of the twentieth century, the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease was reserved for individuals between the ages of 45 and 65 who developed symptoms of dementia. The terminology changed after 1977 when a conference concluded that the clinical and pathological manifestations of presenile and senile dementia were almost identical, although the authors also added that this did not rule out the possibility of different etiologies. This eventually led to the use of Alzheimer's disease independently of onset age of the disease. The term senile dementia of the Alzheimer type (SDAT) was used for a time to describe the condition in those over 65, with classical Alzheimer's disease being used for those younger. Eventually, the term Alzheimer's disease was formally adopted in medical nomenclature to describe individuals of all ages with a characteristic common symptom pattern, disease course, and neuropathology.


Notable cases


As a result of the prevalence of the disease, many notable people have contracted it. Well-known examples are former United States President Ronald Reagan and Irish writer Iris Murdoch, both of whom have scientific articles on how their cognitive capacities deteriorated with the disease. Other cases include the retired footballer Ferenc Puskas, the former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, the actress Rita Hayworth, the actor Charlton Heston, and the novelist Terry Pratchett.


Alzheimers has also been portrayed in films such as: Iris (2001), (based on John Bayley's memoir of his wife Iris Murdoch); The Notebook (2004), (based on Nicholas Sparks' 1996 novel of the same name); Thanmathra (2005); Memories of Tomorrow (Ashita no Kioku) (2006), (based on Hiroshi Ogiwara's novel of the same name); and Away from her (2006), (based on Alice Munro's short story The bear came over the mountain). Documentaries on AD include Malcolm and Barbara: A Love Story (1999) and Malcolm and Barbara: Love’s Farewell (2007), both featuring Malcolm Pointon. In The Cider House Rules the affliction of a character with Alzheimer's is mistaken as alcoholism.





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