Alzheimer’s disease is relentlessly destroying the brains and lives of our nation’s older adults, robbing them of memory, the ability to reason, and affecting their emotions and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the brain. The longer we live the greater the risk: one out of every two Americans aged 85 and older and one out of every 10 aged 65 and older are afflicted with the disease. It affects two groups of people: those with the disease and the loved ones who care for them. By the year 2050, an estimated 14 million Americans will be in its grip. (Medina xi, 2)
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive disease of the brain, which is characterized by a gradual loss of memory and other mental functions. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia -- a general term referring to loss of memory and the ability to think, reason, function, and behave appropriately. (Medina 4) The word dementia is derived from two Latin words, which mean away and mind, respectively. (Goldmann 2) It’s different from the mild forgetfulness normally observed in older people. Over the course of the disease, people with AD no longer recognize themselves or much about the world around them. (Medina 4)
Alzheimer’s is marked by abnormal clumps, called senile plaques, and irregular knots, called neurofibrillary tangles, of brain cells. The plaque is an accumulation of an abnormal protein, amyloid. One theory regarding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease suggests that this plaque forms because the processes that normally operate to clear away this protein have become defective. Neurofibillary tangles are skeins of another abnormal protein, but the tangle is found inside the nerve cells. The reason why the tangles develop is not known, but the normal processing of protein by the cell seems to be disrupted. These tangles choke the nerve cells and prevent them for working properly. For reasons not well understood, these plaques and tangles take over healthy brain tissue, which devastates the areas of the brain associated with intellectual function. (Goldmann 6)
There are a number of behaviors which may signal that a person might be in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Here is a list of warning signs: (1) difficulty with familiar tasks, (2) slipping job performance, (3) language difficulties, (4) confusion of place and time, (5) lack of judgment, (6) problems in abstract thinking, (7) misplacing objects,...