The Mystery Called Alzheimer's Disease

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Dementia is a condition where there is loss of brain function in some regions of the brain. There are different forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is an example for dementia.  More than 26 million people have been affected by this disease worldwide. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50-80% of the dementia cases. The economic cost of this disease runs into several billions of dollars.

This is a much dreaded disease. Acquiring this disorder is equivalent to getting a death sentence. It is even more difficult on the family members who have to watch the slow deterioration of the individual before their eyes. The characteristic feature of Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of memory. Victims cannot recognize even family members. They cannot recognize their homes or, the street in which they live. Alzheimer’s disease also affects cognitive skills, emotional behavior, and language skills. The symptoms worsen over the years. Loss of memory is not the only problem. The disease is also a killer. In the US, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth major killer. The average life expectancy after the symptoms are noticed is around eight years.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. These plaques cause neuronal tangles. The neuronal tangles lead to loss of communication between individual neurons. The cause for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is poorly understood. Risk for Alzheimer’s disease increases with age and generally affects people above the age of 60. It is however, not part of the normal ageing process. Women are more susceptible. There is also a strong genetic element involved. The risk for the disease increases when somebody in the family has already had it. The presence of several disorders increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Hypertension, obesity, chronic insomnia and high blood cholesterol levels are very good examples. There is no known cure for this disease.

Free radicals are highly reactive chemical fragments produced during normal metabolism and are capable of causing damage to intra cellular structures. Many of the diseases which are common today are believed to be the outcome of free radical accumulation. Many forms of dementia are also believed to be due to oxidative stress created by free radical accumulation in the body.

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