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Alzheimer’s disease had not been discovered until recently. Not much is known about this disease,
and today many people are affected by it. It definitely is a social problem in the United States today. In the
following paper I hope to give insight as to what is known about the disease. Who is affected by it, and
what can be done to fight this terrible thing that only seems to be getting worse.
Review of Sources
With the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease less than a century old, not enough information is available to
create a cure, or to make easy predictions as to who will get the disease and when. Alzheimer’s disease
patients need to be institutionalized for proper care once the disease reaches a certain point in which the
patient becomes a danger to themselves and others.
Alzheimer’s disease is a “degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized by premature
senile mental deterioration” (Webster 89). It is also described as a disease that destroys the very core of
one’s being. It causes memory loss, disorientation, and personality changes.
The human brain needs certain chemicals to transmit and receive messages between neurons (brain cells).
An Alzheimer brain lacks sufficient chemicals for normal communication amongst neurons eventually
causing the neuron itself to deteriorate and die. This occurs only in the areas of the brain involved with
memory, speech and personality. (Brooks 87)
Although there are some known cases of Alzheimer’s disease found in persons as young as twenty,
the majority of victims are past the sixth decade of life. It is estimated that between five and ten percent of
all victims will get the disease in their mid-sixties. Twenty percent will get it in their seventies and forty
percent in their eighties (Brooks 87).
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease were first diagnosed in 1906 by a German neuropathologist
named Alois Alzheimer. It was not until the early 1970’s that the American public became aware that
Alzheimer’s is a disorder, not a natural part of the aging process (Worsnop 92).
The predominant symptoms are gradual increasing loss of memory. There are sixteen functional stages and
sub stages leading to the most severe dementia according to Dr. Barry Reisberg of the New York
University of Medicine. The stages are in this particular order, ” (1) decreased ability to handle a complex
job (2) decreased ability to handle such complex activities of a daily life as (3) managing finances (4)
complex meal preparation and (5) complex marketing skills. Then comes (6) loss of ability to pick out
clothing properly, (7) or to put on clothing properly, followed by (8) loss of ability to handle the mechanics
of bathing properly. Then (9) progressive difficulties with continence and (10) toileting occur, followed by
(11) very limited speech ability and (12) inability to speak more than a single word. Next comes (13) loss
of ambulatory capacity. Last to go, are such basic functions as the ability to (14) sit up, (15) to smile, and
(16) to hold up one’s head” (Wo!
Each Alzheimer patient will be affected in different ways. The more neurons lost, the more one’s mental
Many people are very frightened of Alzheimer’s Disease to the point of paranoia. They make assumptions
that a little forgetfulness means that someone has been afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease. There is only need
for concern when the forgetfulness represents “unusual or uncharacteristic degrees of forgetting:” Possible
danger signs of Alzheimer’s disease could be:
An inability to perform familiar tasks
Trouble organizing and sequencing familiar information such as knowing where
Changes in habitual behavior patterns
Gradual memory loss
Sudden dramatic lack of social inhibition
Diminution of reason and problem solving abilities and inability to adapt to simple changes
No one really knows what causes this tragic disease, but there are a few theories. One such theory
is one born with a predisposition toward the disease. A certain molecular version of a protein called
apolopoprotein is said to have some relevance in the cause of Alzheimer’s. There are three different forms
of apolopoproteins. One such is called apolopoprotein-4 and is found in abundance in the brains of
autopsied Alzheimer’s patients. A person is born with zero to two copies of this protein. The more copies
one has, the higher the risk of getting the disease (Wuethrich 90).
Another theory is that Alzheimer’s Disease is linked to aluminum. Surprisingly high levels of
aluminum turn up in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. Dr. Barry Thomas led an Australian study showing
aluminum in water was accumulated in the brains of rats. Aluminum, which is used to purify water, can be
absorbed by the body. “As to whether it actually causes memory loss and brain damage there is no
conclusive evidence, but we fear it might”, stated Thomas. The associate professor at University of
Toronto, Theo Kruck. Kruck said, “aluminum is a highly toxic substance in your brain” (Nichols 90).
There are no known cures to Alzheimer’s Disease, but there is one treatment that has been
approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is a drug called Cognex which prevents
destruction of one of the neurotransmitters in the brain. This slows the loss of memory. The only down
side to this treatment is it is only effective on twenty percent of Alzheimer’s patients and it does not reverse
the effects of Alzheimer’s; it simply slows the deterioration. Once the symptoms are present not much can
be done by anyone to reverse them. Vitamins C and E act as antioxidants. These are being tested, they
may be able to use vitamins to stop deterioration of neurons. Some suggest that people who take these
have lower risk on getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Since not much of anything can be done once Alzheimer’s symptoms appear, people wonder what
can be done to prevent one’s self from becoming a victim. According to Alicia Brooks of People
Magazine, “people with higher levels of education are less likely to show symptoms. The theory is the
more you learn, the more you stimulate the brain, creating more complex neurons. Therefore, when the
brain cells begin to degenerate or are destroyed more active brain cells would be in reserve to call on.
“Force yourself to use your brain,” she says.
There is no actual diagnosis for Alzheimer’s Disease. The only way to find out if an individual
actually has Alzheimer’s Disease is by brain biopsy. What doctors usually do to find out if a patient has the
disease is to rule out all other possibilities. The following diseases must be ruled out before one can be
called an Alzheimer’s patient.
Multi-infarct dementia (MID)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Rare nerve diseases (Kuru, Picks, Wilson’s, Creutzfeld Jacob’s)
As technology progresses in the U.S. longevity is also on the rise. The percentage of American over
eighty-five years old has doubled in the he past two years. An estimated four -million Americans are
touched by this disease and one-hundred-thousand die form it annually.
Home care and professional care are both very expensive and financial support is extremely limited but
there are some programs devised to create partial relief.
Two such programs are Medicare and Medicaid. When a skilled nurse is required to assist a patient at
home Medicare will pick up the check for the first twenty days. In addition it will pay a portion of the bill
for the upcoming eighty days. What happens after the eighty days?
Medicare, a federal-state organization is designed to provide care for the poor who have Alzheimer’s. This
program will pay for half of the cost for a nursing home stay if the patient can prove that he is unable to
work (Worsnop 92). What happens if one cannot afford to pay for half of the hospital bill?
The vast majority of Alzheimer’s victims are cared for by loved ones at home. Sometimes these caregivers
feel a sense of obligation to take care of the patient, but the biggest reason for keeping a patient at home is
lack of funds to pay of professional care. Alzheimer’s patients need twenty-four hour supervision and the
only way to provide this is through a nursing home or hospital of some sort.
Scientists express confidence that a major breakthrough will come within a few years. How can one
depend on this? This is a question one might ask themselves. According to a Boston study, by the year
2050, this nation will have between 7.5 million and 14.3 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease (Worsnop
92). How will they be taken care of?
Special institutions should be set up by government with the proper facilities and equipment to deal with
people with Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a new disease to us, and unfortunately we do not know much
about it. This disease is devastating to families and friends of victims, as well as the victims themselves.
The patients must be cared for twenty-four hours a day. The average American cannot afford to do so, or
afford to have their particular loved one cared for. The people of the nation are in need of assistance. It is
the only solution.
Webster, Laurence P. Alzheimer’s Disease: Troubled Past Uncertain Future. New York: Macmillan,
Brooks, Robert W. Alzheimer’s: The Epidemic of the Elderly. Columbia, Maryland: GP Courseware Inc.,
Worsnop, Bernard L. Alzheimer’s and the Future. New York: Plemum Press, 1983.
Caroll, Gail Kay. A Look at Alzheimer’s Disease. New York, New York: Harper and Row Publishers,
Wuethrich, Sheldon. Common Questions about Alzheimer’s Disease. San Francisco: Coward McCann
Nichols, Henry. Alzheimer’s Disease. Chicago: Bookshelf Publishing, 1990.