Thursday, September 24, 2009

Understanding Alzheimer's

Photo credit: Reader's Digest

Today some of us from New Voices are helping out at a briefing on the Hill. One of the focuses of the briefing is Alzheimer’s disease. Because Alzheimer’s is an important health issue and World Alzheimer’s Day was this past Monday, I thought it would be an appropriate topic for this post.

Alzheimer’s is a major health concern because it affects significant numbers of people across the US and throughout the world. Currently, an estimated 5.3 million people throughout the United States have Alzheimer’s; 35 million people across the globe are living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These numbers will only increase with time: according to a recent report by Alzheimer’s Disease International, more than 115 million people across the globe will suffer from dementia by 2050. And in addition to the influence the disease has on the lives of patients and caregivers, it also has a huge economic impact: Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost Medicare, Medicaid and businesses more than $148 billion each year.

Although many have been directly impacted by Alzheimer's, there is a concerning lack of awareness about the disease in low and middle income countries and even in developed countries. The signs of the disease are not always recognized, and people are often hesitant to report symptoms. According to the World Alzheimer’s Report, in the UK:
  • The average length of time people wait before reporting symptoms is three years
  • 70% of caregivers report being unaware of the symptoms of dementia before diagnosis and 58% believe the symptoms to be a normal part of aging
  • Only 31% of primary care doctors believe that they have adequate training to diagnose and manage dementia
Fortunately, important strides are being made toward understanding and finding treatment for Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of this month, teams of researchers from the UK and France reported having found potentially key genes linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the first time in 16 years that such gene clues have been discovered. In July, another team reported that an immune therapy given to cancer patients could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

Recognizing the importance of the disease, Alzheimer’s Disease International has made several recommendations to the global community. It has suggested that the disease be made a global and national health priority, that appropriate services for diagnosing the disease be created and made accessible, called for greater collaboration, and more research regarding the causes of “Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, pharmacological and psychosocial treatments, the prevalence and impact of dementia, and the prevention of dementia.”

So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments to gain a better understanding of the disease.
  • Participate in the Memory Walk to help raise research funding.
  • Get involved by finding out about services and support groups in your community.
  • If you have been affected by Alzheimer’s, tell others about your experience to raise awareness and support for research and treatment.


  1. Alzheimer’s disease is caused due to the damage to brain cells. Person suffering from it, have trouble in consuming food, loss of control over passing urine, have trouble in understanding conversations, feels depressed. By following a healthy life style, eating right, maintaining optimal health, daily exercise, regulating blood pressure and cholesterol levels, mingling with others, can help prevent this disease.

  2. Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease, and while it can be slowed, and a healthy lifestyle is important in slowing the progression, to date there is no evidence that it can be prevented by diet.

    What is known is that the cerebral cortex, responsible for all of our more complex functions, shrinks in size due to neurons (the cells of the brain) dying. There are websites that show pictures of the non-Alzheimer's brain compared to the Alzheimer's afflicted brain, and the difference is pretty shocking.

    At a more microscopic level, there is a buildup of what are known as plaques and tangles. These appear to be toxic to the neuronal cells of the brain, and cause the cells to die.

    A lot still needs to be uncovered about this disease, but to date, there's no known means of prevention. Hopefully, as researchers learn more, there will be.

  3. Wow i like the picture now i can understand this terrible problem my grandfather have this problem he is always shaking theres any cure out there ?