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Alzheimer's disease doesn't just steal memories. It takes lives.
The disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and figures released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association show that deaths from the disease increased by 68 percent between 2000 and 2010.
"It's an epidemic, it's on the rise, and currently [there is] no way to delay it, prevent it or cure it," says Maria Carrillo,
a neuroscientist with the Alzheimer's Association. More than 5 million
people in the U.S. have the disease, she says, and that number could
reach nearly 14 million by 2050.
A staggering 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's disease or other types
of dementia, says a new report that highlights the impact the
mind-destroying disease is having on the rapidly aging population.
with Alzheimer's is not the same as dying from it. But even when
dementia isn't the direct cause of death, it can be the final blow —
speeding someone's decline by interfering with their care for heart
disease, cancer or other serious illnesses. That's the assessment of the
report released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association, which advocates
for more research and support for families afflicted by it.
aging," is how Dr. Maria Carrillo, an association vice president, terms
the Alzheimer's effect. "It changes any health care situation for a
study indicates that people who stay aerobically fit in middle age
might be less likely to develop dementia later. At the Cooper Institute
in Dallas, researchers saw this in 24 years of data on about 20,000
people. Researcher Laura DeFina:
“With increasing cardiorespiratory fitness levels, there was decreased development of all-cause dementia in later life.”
instance, people in the fittest 20 percent around age 50 were 36
percent less likely than those in the least-fit 20 percent to be
diagnosed with dementia after age 65.
DeFina notes other studies have found better blood flow in brains of fitter people.
The report in Annals of Internal Medicine was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Why does chronic stress lead to increased risk for dementia? The answer
may lie in the elevation of stress steroids that is seen in the brain
during stress, Sara K. Bengtsson suggests in the thesis she is defending
at Umeå University in Sweden on March 22nd.
These stress steroids can inhibit the general brain activity.
Allopregnanolon is one of them, and the doctoral thesis shows that
chronically elevated levels of allopregnanolone accelerated the disease
development in two transgenic Alzheimer disease models. The Alzheimer
mice responded with impaired learning and memory. They had also
increased brain levels of beta-amyloids, i.e. the proteins that form
plaques in Alzheimer's disease.
The thesis also demonstrates that high levels of beta-amyloids
corresponded to dysfunction among brain synapses. This was seen after a
period of chronically elevated levels of allopregnanolon, but not after
placebo treatment. The effects were identified early in the disease
development when the animals normally have intact memory function. A
similar acceleration of AD in humans could mean the difference between
living self-sufficiently at home and living with requirements of
In general, dementia is considered as elderly disease. This is the
reason that young and middle-aged people do not associate themselves
with neurodegenerative disease.
Similar thing happened with Kate Swaffer who got diagnosed with
dementia at the age of 54. Swaffer shared that she was unable to believe
doctor who told her that she was suffering from dementia. It took a lot
of time for her to seep in the fact that she was down with dementia.
She still remembers that she used to cry a lot. A report taken out by
the Alzheimer's Australia national summit also shows that it gets very
difficult for considerably young people to accept the news of dementia.
There are a number of difficulties which they have to face, some
being misdiagnosis, social challenges, suspension from job and lack of
services to cure the problem.
Alzheimer's disease is very good at taking. It takes away memories.
It takes away personalities. It can be argued that Alzheimer's
essentially takes away a person's essence.
And as almost anyone who has spent time in a senior living facility
can tell you, it can also take away sexual inhibitions. Clinicians have a
fancy term for this development: hypersexual behavior. Up to 17% of people with dementia opt for this particular form of personal expression, according to published reports.
In senior care settings, it can be seen in obvious and subtle ways:
jealous accusations that a spouse is being unfaithful, sexual overtures
to staff or other residents, extramarital relationships and even public
Other less extreme examples include vulgar/obscene language, publicly
exposing oneself and other forms of another fancy term: disinhibition.
All of these behaviors can raise awkward issues.
Which gives long-term care operators a new twist to deal with. One helpful book on this subject is Sexuality and Long-Term Care
by Gayle Doll. One of its features is helping facilities examine
policies around relationships and sexual behavior. Major concerns
include avoiding any sexual exploitation, abuse or assault and
determining the individuals' ability to give meaningful consent.
The finding confirms earlier observations by some of the same
researchers. Those studies showed a link in mice between sleep loss and
brain plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Early evidence
tentatively suggests the connection may work in both directions:
Alzheimer’s plaques disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep promotes
“This link may provide us with an easily detectable sign of Alzheimer’s
pathology,” says senior author David M. Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and
Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of Washington University’s
Department of Neurology. “As we start to treat people who have markers
of early Alzheimer’s, changes in sleep in response to treatments may
serve as an indicator of whether the new treatments are succeeding.”
In patients with moderate Alzheimer's disease,
an experimental drug that alters the brain's "fight or flight" impulse
succeeded in improving memory modestly when it was added to at least one
of the medications already in wide use to treat the memory-robbing
Compared with subjects taking the drug memantine and a placebo,
subjects supplementing their customary drug regimen for three months
with the experimental drug--ORM-12741--scored more highly on two
measures of memory. One of those tested the quality of patients' memory
overall; the other tested the quality of patients' "episodic
memory"--the ability to recall events and experiences from one's own
In subjects taking the lower of the two doses tested, researchers at
Finnish drug developer Orion Pharmaceuticals found a slight improvement
in working memory--the ability to hold several items in memory for a
minute or two. But the benefits were too small to be reliably attributed
to the drug.