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Advances In Treatment Of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Dementia takes the lives of about 1 in 3 Americans and takes more elderly lives than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Alzheimer’s, one of the most common forms of dementia, effects over 5 million Americans to date and is the 6th leading cause of death. Statistics aside, it is highly likely that you know someone that has been diagnosed with this disease. Personally, two members of my family have been diagnosed and passed due to Alzheimer’s, one family member lived significantly longer with the diagnoses than the other. Person A, my great-grandmother, received a high level of care from my grandmother which resulted in longevity. Person B, my great-uncle (and her son), did not receive the same level of care and the disease progressed very quickly resulting in a much earlier death. My interest, and what I’d like to discuss in this paper is what advances in psychology and medicine are leading to more advanced diagnosis of this debilitating disease. The unique significance of Alzheimer’s is the lasting impact and hardships this can create on the social support group around the diagnosed patient. I’ll discuss in more detail what Alzheimer’s is, the cognitive impairments that it causes and how a disease associated with memory loss can ultimately take a person’s life. I will further discuss what is currently being done in the field to diagnose the disease and how advances could lead to earlier diagnoses. Conclusively, I’ll discuss what is being done with the information of an early diagnoses. Public assumption for most diseases is that the earlier a detection or diagnoses can be given is always beneficial. How are patients and doctors utilizing the information provided with an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s? Is it as beneficial as we would hope? Through my research, I expect to find that an early diagnosis of the disease, which can lead to lifestyle changes, medical treatments as well as psychological treatments will significantly decrease the progress of the disease. This would ultimately lead not only to a longer life for those diagnosed but a more fulfilling and worthwhile life in their final years.

In its most simplistic definition, Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive disease which causes neurodegeneration resulting in memory loss, cognitive impairment and eventually death. One popular theory regarding the development of Alzheimer’s involves proteins beta-amyloid and tau. Neurodegeneration occurs because of the proteins beta-amyloid and tau setting off a domino effect of destruction. Beta-amyloid, produced by all brains but removed in healthy individuals before it causes harm, starts to collect in the brain. Beta-amyloid can start forming as early as 20 years prior to any visible symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The overabundance of beta-amyloid proteins form plaques that collect between neurons, which disrupts proper functioning of the neurons. As more and more plaques are formed throughout the brain gradual loss begins in memory functioning, learning, speech and tasks related to social behavior and reasoning. Approximately 15 years prior to any visible symptoms of Alzheimer’s, a second protein called tau becomes altered in the brain, forming tangles within neurons, interfering with transmission of information and nutrients to the cell and results in injuring the cell. When beta-amyloid is at its max culmination, a rapid spread of tau in the brain occurs. These effect more and more areas of the brain and is when we notice the onset of symptoms beginning and progress at a very rapid pace. Major symptoms include memory loss that affects daily life, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, difficulty reading or understanding visual images, new problems with words, misplacing items, poor judgement, withdrawal from social activities and changes in mood or behavior. During late onset of Alzheimer’s, patients experience terminal drop and succumb to complications from the disease. One study researched causes of death with those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and found most deaths were caused by pneumonia, cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary embolism, cachexia and dehydration. (S. Todd, S. Barr, and A.P. Passmore, 2013, pg 750-751).

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Once diagnosed, patients can live anywhere between 4 and 20 years with the disease, although 4-8 years is most likely. This dramatic gap in survival time is why its so important to diagnose this disease early. One challenge is failure to accurately diagnose the disease by physicians due to bias. “A common reason is the attitude on the part of some physicians that early diagnosis does more harm than good based on the mistaken belief patients and their families would prefer not to know or could not adequately deal with it; both are untrue.” (Cavanaugh, John C.,2019, p. 288) Thankfully, not all physicians feel this way and much is being done about the different way we can predict Alzheimer’s before symptoms are visible. One study utilizes a noninvasive blood test that can predict brain changes 16 years prior to a diagnosis of the disease. (Presiche, O et al., 2019) Researchers study groups of families who carry an early-onset genetic variant that causes Alzheimer’s at a young age. The blood test detects NfL, a structural protein in neurons, this protein slips into the bloodstream when brain neurons are damaged or dyeing. The researchers found that those with rising protein levels in their blood were more likely to show cognitive decline and brain atrophy during revisits. This study although hopeful, is helpful to only those with this rare form. Thanks to technological advances there are several other tests researchers are using to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s in more traditional cases. Northwestern University found that an eye test utilizing an infrared camera, detected reduced blood capillaries in the back of the eye. This linkage is due to Alzheimer’s patients having decreased blood flow to the retina and lower blood vessel density in the eye. These new non-invasive tests are innovative alternatives to the more traditional brain scans, Mental Status Tests and spinal taps.

Alzheimer’s is currently uncurable but that doesn’t mean an early diagnoses isn’t beneficial to the patient and their social support group.

Bibliography

  1. Cavanaugh, J. C., Blanchard-Fields, F. (2019). The Big Three: Depression, Delirium, and Dementia. In Adult Development and Aging (pp. 285–296). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
  2. Wang, L., Liu, Y., Zeng, X., Cheng, H., Wang, Z., & Wang, Q. (2019, December 24). Region-of-Interest based sparse feature learning method for Alzheimer’s disease identification. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169260719314774
  3. Krance, S. H., Cogo-Moreira, H., Rabin, J. S., Black, S. E., & Swardfager, W. (2019, September 11). Reciprocal Predictive Relationships between Amyloid and Tau Biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease Progression: An Empirical Model. Retrieved from https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.libraryproxy.uwp.edu:2443/pmc/articles/PMC6759020/
  4. Todd, S., Barr, S., & Passmore, A. P. (2013, August). Cause of death in Alzheimer’s disease: a cohort study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23653484
  5. Preische, O., Schultz, S. A., Apel, A., Kuhle, J., Kaeser, S. A., Barro, C., Gräber, S., Kuder-Buletta, E., LaFougere, C., Laske, C., Vöglein, J., Levin, J., Masters, C. L., Martins, R., Schofield, P. R., Rossor, M. N., Graff-Radford, N. R., Salloway, S., Ghetti, B., Ringman, J. M., … Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (2019). Serum neurofilament dynamics predicts neurodegeneration and clinical progression in presymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease. Nature medicine, 25(2), 277–283. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-018-0304-3
  6. Zhang, Y. S., Zhou, N., Knoll, B. M., Samra, S., Ward, M. R., Weintraub, S., & Fawzi, A. A. (2019, April 2). Parafoveal vessel loss and correlation between peripapillary vessel density and cognitive performance in amnestic mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s Disease on optical coherence tomography angiography. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0214685

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Advances In Treatment Of Alzheimer’s Disease. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/advances-in-treatment-of-alzheimers-disease/
“Advances In Treatment Of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/advances-in-treatment-of-alzheimers-disease/
Advances In Treatment Of Alzheimer’s Disease. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/advances-in-treatment-of-alzheimers-disease/> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
Advances In Treatment Of Alzheimer’s Disease [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/advances-in-treatment-of-alzheimers-disease/
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