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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, but 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.


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