Dr. Guy Eakin: Today I am talking about Alzheimer's disease and how it affects the brain. Alzheimer's disease robs people's memories. It is a progressive brain disorder that invariably ends in death. Individuals with Alzheimer's can live for two to 20 years after diagnosis and despite a hundred years of research the cause of the disease remains unknown.
Two types of abnormal brain structures are the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. These are the so-called plaques and tangles. These are the neuritic or amyloid plaques located outside the brain's nerve cells or neurons and the neurofibrillary or towel tangles found within the neurons. Alzheimer's disease does not affect everyone the same way and symptoms vary in severity.
There are three stages that represent the progression of the disease. In the first stage, those with Alzheimer's tend to exhibit minor memory loss, depression, confusion and poor judgment and they prefer familiar people and places. They may have difficulty performing routine tasks and have trouble communicating and understanding written material.
This can lead to anger, frustration and helplessness. Normally, people are diagnosed in this stage of the disease. Later, people with Alzheimer's are clearly becoming disabled due to damage in the areas of the brain that control language, reasoning sensory processing and judgment.
By the final stage, they cannot communicate, have lost self-awareness and are completely dependent on others for their care. Near the end, they may be in bed most of the time as their bodies slowly become less capable of supporting normal activities. They become vulnerable to infections and other illnesses and eventually this leads to coma and death.
Scientists are conducting studies to learn more about plaques and tangles and there are dozens of drugs going through the clinical process. All of this points to a day when Alzheimer's disease will become preventable, treatable and curable.