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Alzheimer’S: Is There A Cure?

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Alzheimer’S: Is There A Cure?

Post  Pete2002 on Mon Jan 25, 2010 3:54 am

Alzheimer’s: Is there a cure? In February of 2000, I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's disease. She was diagnosed with the disease just less than two years prior to her death. Throughout that time, I watched changes in my grandmother that made her seem like an entirely different woman to me. She gradually began losing her short-term memory and we began to see signs of her long-term memory degrading too. It began to get harder and harder to take her out into public without being afraid of what would happen next. Her emotions would fluctuate with the changing of each minute it seemed. Physically she became weaker and weaker and would often scare us with falling while she would be walking. Eventually she had to be moved into the extended care unit of our local hospital because my grandfather could no longer handle taking care of her alone. The hardest part of it all was letting other people know what was wrong. For a while there were no physical signs that there was anything wrong with her. When we would be at a restaurant and she would suddenly decide to start yelling at the waitress for wearing white shoes, we all had to deal with the looks and stares, and sometimes even the comments and questions from strangers wanting to know if she was alright. That is why I chose to write this paper. I feel that people need to be more educated on what this form of dementia truly is and what the signs and symptoms can be. They should also be aware of what it is they can do to help make families dealing with this disease more comfortable, whether it be at a nursing home, a restaurant, or even if they are just visiting. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia. It is an incurable disease that strikes most elderly people gradually, by destroying nerve cells in their brains and little by little it erases their ability to remember, to think, and to take care of themselves (Izenberg, 2000). Often times this disease has been called “the long good-bye” because the symptoms progress so gradually. Most often the disease shows itself in the elderly around the age of about eighty, and is rarely seen in people under the age of sixty-five. One of the characteristics of this disease that makes it so hard for scientists to find a cure, are the numerous factors that present themselves in different patients. It seems as if no two cases of Alzheimer’s can be exactly alike. In 1906 a physician, named Alois Alzheimer, cared for a fifty-one year old patient with severe dementia. Upon her death, he was able to examine her brain at autopsy. Dr. Alzheimer was able to take advantage of recent innovations in microscopy and histological techniques that allowed him to study in detail the cellular components in nervous tissue. He found that the brain of his patient had severe cortical atrophy and described the neurofibrillary bundles and plaques that are now the hallmark for definitive diagnosis of what he at that time called “presenile dementia”. An account of his first patient was published in 1907. It is a little ironic that reevaluation this case has lead some to believe that this first patient did not suffer from the Alzheimer’s disease at all. Instead they believe she suffered from a different, rare disease called metachromatic leukodystrophy (Izenberg, 2000). The term Alzheimer's Disease was coined by Emil Kraepelin who pioneered early work that examined psychiatric disorders from a biological perspective. There is some disagreement about whether Kraepelin considered “presenile dementia” a disease distinct from other forms of dementia, but he referred toAlzheimer's Disease in his influential book Psychiatrie, and the name has stuck ever since. Alzheimer's disease gained relatively rapid acceptance as a distinct disease state. In spite of this, it unfortunately gained very little attention until about the 1980s, but has received much attention recently. In fact, it has been referred to by some as the disease of the century (Izenberg, 2000). Several reasons for this increased attention have been considered. Advances in both safety and medical sciences have resulted in a lengthening of our lives and have increased the chance that any of us will suffer from illnesses that tend to occur later in life. This problem is combined with the population surge that occurred shortly after World War II. The result is an increasingly older population. As our population ages, the number of Alzheimer patients could triple to 14 million. Additionally, people do not die directly from Alzheimer's disease but from complications, such as pneumonia (Izenberg, 2000). Recent studies have found many different drugs to be effective in treating the disease, but none that truly cure it. Scientists of the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Dementia Research are doing a study looking at the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs. These drugs, also known as statins, have revolutionized the treatment of cardiovascular disease and now may also have the ability to prevent or at least delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Over the years, there's been a lot of clinical, epidemiological, and more recently, laboratory data that support a link between cholesterol... and susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease, says Lorenzo Refolo one of the scientists from the Institute (Travis, 2001). Michael J. Mullan, of the University of South Florida in South Tampa, says this about statins, we may have, right at our fingertips, very good drugs for preventing or treating Alzheimer's disease. It must be kept in mind that it will take some years to confirm the benefit of these drugs (Travis, 2001). Just recently, the company of Johnson & Johnson received Food and Drug Administration approval for a new drug to help the fight of Alzheimer's disease. The drug, Reminyl, is said to be able to treat mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's cases. Reminyl was shown to be effective in improving or helping to stabilize the patients' ability to think and perform daily tasks in studies involving more than 2,650 subjects (Health & Technology, 2001). Johnson & Johnson say that the drug will be available starting in May. Another approach to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease is finding something that will block molecules that are possibly responsible for the disease. Bob Vassar designed and implemented an ingenious method for isolating the gene for an enzyme called beta-secretase, which is found to be a key culprit in the disease (Garber, 2001). While other drugs that are approved only improve the functions of those with the disease, this method could actually stop the progression, not just slow it down. There are some drawbacks to this method. What is not known about the enzyme beta-secretase, though seemingly linked to human development and cell division, is what the enzyme's normal function in the body is. By blocking it could conceivably cause anything from hair loss to psychosis (Garber, 2001). Finding an inhibitor for this enzyme will not happen overnight, but it is possible to see a drug on the market in the next ten years. Right now there are some drugs on the market that have been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. One of these is the drug Aricept, which is said to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as confusion or memory loss. Another drug that has been approved is Exelon. It is also shown to help with the improvement of memory and cognitive functioning. There are studies continually being done on things such as aspirin, vitamin E, estrogen, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and nerve growth factor (Bolla, Filley, & Palmer, 2000). With all the research that is continually being done, my feeling is that the “cure” from a social standpoint lies in how we treat those dealing with the disease. It is easy for those who don’t understand this form of dementia to look at those suffering in a belittling way. We need to remember that they are still people with real feelings. In visiting the many nursing homes searching for the right one for my grandmother, we ran across many different environments that were created for dementia patients. Some places had set-ups where they were sectioned off completely from the rest of the nursing home. They only ate and interacted with others suffering from dementia. I think one of the problems with this type of design is that the patient is taken away from the type of living that they were used to before the onset of their disease. It would be a hard transition to make moving from possibly their own home to a place where it seemed they were almost secluded to a dementia patients’ way of life. The one common characteristic of all the places we were was that it seemed that all of the staff working with the dementia patients had been trained and understood how to treat the patients without being belittling. They all seemed very understanding of the different emotions, outbursts, and dispositions of the patients. I think that communities that have nursing homes in them or near them should definitely be aware in just the same way that those on staff were of how to treat an Alzheimer’s patient. If there were a greater understanding of what these people were going through and how to communicate with them, then I think it would make the lives of those involved with Alzheimer’s much easier. One step communities could take is to start programs in schools where students are taught and even exposed to the different diseases and conditions the elderly suffer from. Volunteering at nursing homes is one of the best ways to be exposed to the elderly and their lives. As a volunteer you are not necessarily playing a professional role, rather, you are playing the role of a friend to the patients. Volunteering could be at different levels, such as helping with or planning activities, taking in baked goods, flowers, or other things for their rooms, or even just visiting with them one-on-one on a regular basis (Bell & Troxel, 1997). Another aspect of social change is what we as Christians can do, and how we should treat those suffering. As the elements of memory, personality, and the ability to think things through begin to slip away, the person needs fellow travelers that can share the journey and offer guidance along the road. We as fellow Christians should be that fellow traveler. Other illnesses that have no cure take away not only a person’s present but also the future they were looking to have. With Alzheimer's disease the person is not only robbed of the present and the future, but also of their past. The loss of memories can have an extreme effect on the person’s religious life. They may not be able to longer recall Bible verses or passages. They may not remember what Christmas or Easter is about. They may not even be able to remember accepting Jesus Christ as their savior and what that acceptance means. I think it is important to emphasize to those suffering that even though we as humans forget, God does not. As fellow Christians we should take the time to spend time with those we know who are suffering. We can read the Bible to them, talk about things that happen in church, and be a constant reminder to them of what it is to be a Christian. I can remember when my grandmother would lose her temper, she would swear on occasion, something that she would never had done in front of anyone before. Rather than just telling her not to swear, my parents would always try and remind her that God would not like to hear her talk like that. Her responses would vary, but most of the time it would calm her down because I think part of her could remember that she didn’t want to act that way. So, is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease today? I would say yes and no. No, because scientists are still looking for the one drug that will put a stop to this debilitating disease. I think yes, because we all have to power to “heal” within us. A simple visit, card, or outreach of some kind is guaranteed to put a smile on a suffering person’s face. Alzheimer’s patients are no different. Remember that they too have feeling just the same as you do.


References Bell, V., & Troxel, D. (1997). The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care. Baltimore: Health Professionals Press. Bolla, L., Filley, C., Palmer, R. (2000). Office diagnosis of the four main types of dementia. Geriatrics, 55 (1), 34-46. Garber, K. (2001, March). An end to Alzheimer’s? Technology Review, 70-77. Health & Technology: Johnson & Johnson Has New Anti-Alzheimer's Drug. (2001, March 1). Wall Street Journal, pp. B.11. Izenberg, N. (2000). Human Diseases and Conditions (Vol. 1). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Travis, J. (2001, February 10). Satins take on the brain: Cholesterol-lowering drugs may also fight Alzheimer’s disease. Science News, 92-93.


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