5,000,000! Five million, that’s a lot. Currently there are five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. That number is climbing at a frightening rate, as there is no known cure to the disease. This disease is corrupting the brains of millions, and although this disease has been exposed to the public through media and news, many of us still struggle to comprehend the gravity of it.
Alzheimer’s is brain disorder that quickly and effectively paralyzes the memory, thinking and problem solving skills, along with the ability to complete basic human tasks, like eating, going to sleep at a reasonable time, showering, etc. This disease was first found by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who had a patient with a rare mental illness that caused memory loss, speech impediments, and highly unpredictable and unusual behavior. When she died, Dr. Alois assessed her brain and found numerous irregular clumps, now known as amyloid plaques, and tangled bunches of fibers, now neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles. Today these clumps of amyloid plaques and tau tangles are the most common physiological signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The difficult bit of Alzheimer’s, medically, is it is impossible to absolutely diagnose a person with Alzheimer’s disease with actual brain scans. There are tests that will certainly tell you if somebody has Alzheimer’s, but to actually medically, beyond a doubt prove that they have Alzheimer’s, you need to examine their brain.
Alzheimer’s disease causes extreme symptoms, like loss of memory, loss of motor skill function, loss of thoughtful thinking and problem-solving ability, and loss of bodily awareness. This is because Alzheimer’s particles attack certain parts of the brain. In your brain, you have neurons. Neurons connect and communicate at synapses points, where little burst of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, carry information from one cell to another. Alzheimer’s interrupts this process and eventually destroys synapses points, along with the neurons which damages the brain's communication network. You can imagine amyloid plaque as actual plaque clogging the information highway and neutralizing information from getting to the next synapses point. The Tau tangles are ultimately another way of disabling synapses points by tangling fibers that connect neurons, then the neurons have no way to communicate and eventually die.
Although there are no cures currently, we do have medication that can help an Alzheimer patient feel normal, but unfortunately does not cure the disease nor advance any healing. These medications are used to make the patient feel more like themselves, because Alzheimer’s can make people feel alone and confused in their own comfortable environment and this can lead to anxiety, which isn’t good for the patient. Since 1996, we have found five FDA approved medications involved in aiding those with Alzheimer’s. In 1996, Donepezil, developed by Aricept, was approved and used to improve symptoms of patients with all stages of Alzheimer’s. In 2000, Rivastigmine, developed by Exelon, was approved and then prescribed to patients with any stage of Alzheimer’s. In 2001, Galantamine was developed by Razadyne and used to help with mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. In 2003, Memantine was developed by Namenda and used to help mask the symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s patients. The most recent medication is from 2014, called Donepezil and Memantine, and was developed by Namzaric for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. All treatments have proven the same outcome of masking the symptoms, but not improving the advancement of the disease.
Fortunately, there are several drugs being tested by the FDA that are said to help symptoms and improve the underlying issues by stopping the decay of neurotransmitters and synapses. These drugs are in the early stages of clinical studies, but have a promising outlook for those five million.
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