An Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is an illness that affects the brain. It is the most common cause of dementia, a cluster of symptoms including short- and long-term memory loss, poor judgment, and a decline in a person’s ability to manage the tasks of everyday living.
The Course of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease progresses or gets worse over time. During the earliest stages, the affected person experiences short-term memory loss, problems finding the right word in conversation, losing or misplacing items around the house, and difficulty handling complex or new tasks. The final stages of the disease are marked by profound memory loss, social withdrawal, and the inability to care for oneself or control the most basic bodily functions. Difficulty swallowing often leads to aspiration pneumonia and death.
How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects the Brain
The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease shows two distinct types of damage. Beta-amyloid plaques cluster between the nerve cells and impair the cells’ ability to communicate with each other. At the same time, protein tangles destroy nerve cells from the inside. These plaques and tangles start forming in the parts of the brain responsible for memory. As the disease progresses, they spread throughout the brain.
Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The most common treatment consists of oral medication that temporarily slows the progression of the disease. Doctors may also prescribe medication to treat secondary symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as depression or agitation. People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can benefit from talk therapy or attending a support group to learn coping mechanisms and to combat isolation and loneliness.
Neurosurgery and Alzheimer’s Disease
A 2014 study published in the Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery Journal stated that two experimental neurosurgery treatments for Alzheimer’s showed promise. The first was electrical neural stimulation or deep brain stimulation. In this treatment, the surgeon places electrodes into strategic areas of the brain and uses low levels of electricity to stimulate and improve memory and cognitive function. The second treatment mentioned was encapsulated cell delivery, a type of gene therapy in which the surgeon introduces nerve growth factor directly to the forebrain. While these two treatments are still experimental, they may prove to offer hope to those living with the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.