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Essay/Term paper: Alzheimer's disease

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Psychology

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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disease that
destroys mental and physical functioning in human beings, and invariably leads
to death. It is the fourth leading cause of adult death in the United States.
Alzheimer's creates emotional and financial catastrophe for many American
families every year. Fortunately, a large amount of progress is being made to
combat Alzheimer's disease every year.

To fully be able to comprehend and combat Alzheimer's disease, one must know
what it does to the brain, the part of the human body it most greatly affects.
Many Alzheimer's disease sufferers had their brains examined. A large number of
differences were present when comparing the normal brain to the Alzheimer's
brain. There was a loss of nerve cells from the Cerebral Cortex in the
Alzheimer's victim. Approximately ten percent of the neurons in this region were
lost. But a ten percent loss is relatively minor, and cannot account for the
severe impairment suffered by Alzheimer's victims.

Neurofibrillary Tangles are also found in the brains of Alzheimer's victims.
They are found within the cell bodies of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, and
take on the structure of a paired helix. Other diseases that have "paired
helixes" include Parkinson's disease, Down's Syndrome, and Dementia Pugilistica.
Scientists are not sure how the paired helixes are related in these very
different diseases.

Neuritic Plaques are patches of clumped material lying outside the bodies of
nerve cells in the brain. They are mainly found in the cerebral cortex, but have
also been seen in other areas of the brain. At the core of each of these plaques
is a substance called amyloid, an abnormal protein not usually found in the
brain. This amyloid core is surrounded by cast off fragments of dead or dying
nerve cells. The cell fragments include dying mitochondria, presynaptic
terminals, and paired helical filaments identical to those that are
neurofibrillary tangles. Many neuropathologists think that these plaques are
basically clusters of degenerating nerve cells. But they are still not sure of
how and why these fragments clustered together.

Congophilic Angiopathy is the technical name that neuropathologists have given
to an abnormality found in the walls of blood vessels in the brains of victims
of Alzheimer's disease. These abnormal patches are similar to the neuritic
plaques that develop in Alzheimer's disease, in that amyloid has been found
within the blood-vessel walls wherever the patches occur. Another name for these
patches is cerebrovascular amyloid, meaning amyloid found in the blood vessels
of the brains.

Acetylcholine is a substance that carries signals from one nerve cell to another.
It is known to be important to learning and memory. In the mid 1970s, scientists
found that the brains of those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease contained
sixty to ninety percent less of the enzyme choline acetyltransferase(CAT), which
is responsible for producing acetylcholine, than did the brains of healthy
persons. This was a great milestone, as it was the first functional change
related to learning and memory, and not to different structures.

Somatostatin is another means by which cells in the brain communicate with each
other. The quantities of this chemical messenger, like those of CAT, are also
greatly decreased in the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus of persons with
Alzheimer's disease, almost to the same degree as CAT is lost.

Although scientists have been able to identify many of these, and other changes,
they are not yet sure as to how, or why they take place in Alzheimer's disease.
One could say, that they have most of the pieces of the puzzle; all that is left
to do is find the missing piece and decipher the meaning.

If treatment is required for someone with Alzheimer's disease, then the
Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association(ADRDA), a privately funded,
national, non- profit organization dedicated to easing the burden of Alzheimer
victims and their families and finding a cure can be contacted. There are more
than one hundred and sixty chapters throughout the country, and over one
thousand support groups that can be contacted for help. ADRDA fights Alzheimer's
on five fronts 1- funding research 2- educating and thus increase public
awareness 3- establishing chapters with support groups 4- encouraging federal
and local legislation to help victims and their families 5- providing a service
to help victims and their families find the proper care they need.

Of all the scientists to emerge from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
there is one whose name is known by almost all living people. While most of
these do not understand this man's work, everyone knows that its impact on the
world of science is astonishing. Yes, many have heard of Albert Einstein's
General Theory of relativity, but few know about the intriguing life that led
this scientist to discover what some have called, "The greatest single
achievement of human thought."


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