Alzheimer’s is only one of the many types of dementia and causes problems with memory, thinking, behavior and managing even the simplest of basic life tasks. It is the most common form of dementia (accounting for 50 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases).
Two abnormal structures called plaques (deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells) and tangles (twisted fibers of another protein called tau that build up inside cells) are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells. Although scientists do not know exactly what role plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer’s disease, most experts believe they somehow play a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting processes that cells need to survive. It’s the destruction and death of those nerve cells that causes memory failure, personality changes, problems carrying out daily activities and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Brain cells operate like tiny little factories, and scientists believe Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cell’s factory from running well. They are not sure where the trouble starts. But just like a real factory, backups and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early-onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and worsens over time. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. But drug and non-drug treatments may help with both cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Researchers are looking for new treatments to alter the course of the disease and improve the quality of life for people with dementia. Although current Alzheimer treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset and prevent it from developing. Neuroimaging is one of the most promising areas of research focused on early detection. Extensive research suggests that various imaging technologies may be able to detect hallmark changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of living individuals.
Researchers are also investigating whether presymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease causes consistent, measurable changes in urine or blood levels of tau, beta-amyloid or other biomarkers. In addition, scientists are exploring whether early Alzheimer’s leads to detectable changes elsewhere in the body. Scientists have identified three genes with rare variations that cause Alzheimer’s and several genes that increase risk but don’t guarantee that a person will develop the disease. Investigators worldwide are working to find additional risk genes. There are many more research activities taking place with one goal in mind — a world without Alzheimer’s.
What can I do to help? There are many, many ways you can help in the fight. Become an advocate, support those who have Alzheimer’s and those who care for them, help with fundraising, be part of educating your community, and/or volunteer at the local and state level. Whatever you have to give — whether it be your time or financial resources — is needed and greatly appreciated.
But where to start? Begin at your local level. Volunteer your time at a local care community that specializes in Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory impairment. Become an advocate. Ask at your local senior agency such as Senior Information and Assistance or Area Agency on Aging if there are any opportunities that you could step into. Join/form a team for the annual “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” (formerly known as the Memory Walk). Help with fundraising efforts. Learn more by going online to the three major Alzheimer’s websites (listed at the end of this article). And above all, be tolerant.
This is the time of year that people across the states prepare for the Alzheimer’s Association “Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” which is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Together we can raise awareness and funds to enhance Alzheimer’s care and support and advance critical research. Memory Walk® began in 1989 with nine Alzheimer’s Association chapters raising $149,000 from 1,249 participants. In 1993, Memory Walk grew into an event nationwide and raised $4.5 million at 167 locations. In 2010 more than 33,000 teams participated in nearly 600 Walks across the country, raising more than $42.2 million. The Alzheimer’s Association has mobilized millions of Americans in the fight against the disease; now we continue to lead the way with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The end of Alzheimer’s disease starts here.
You can help support the movement to find an end to Alzheimer’s here on the Olympic Peninsula. Locally, the “Discovery Trailblazers” are once again “On The Move To End Alzheimer’s.” Not only are they Platinum Sponsors for the walk, they are determined to step up their fundraising efforts for this great cause. Join the team and participate in the walk, which will be held on Sept. 17 at Evergreen Park in Bremerton. Can’t walk? Consider making a donation, helping with their fundraising efforts or becoming a team sponsor. For more information on the Olympic Peninsula “Walk To End Alzheimer’s,” contact Pam Scott at 360-477-6408 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I strongly encourage everyone to learn more about this devastating disease and to support the efforts to help find ways to slow the progression, then find a cure and ultimately eliminate Alzheimer’s completely. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association national website at www.alz.org and the Alzheimer’s Association Western/Central Washington site at www.alz.org/alzwa, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America at www.alzfdn.org, and the Alzheimer Society of Washington at www.alzsociety.org for more information, assistance, support and education. And please, please help support local, state and national fundraising efforts.
Remember — You can make a difference! Start today. Right now, we are unnecessarily losing the battle against Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is not just a little memory loss. It eventually kills you, but not before it takes everything away — slowly, gradually, painstakingly, inevitably.”
Alzheimer’s needs and deserves the same dedication and research as other major causes of death.
* NOTE: Most of the information, descriptions, and statistics in this article come from the 3 main Alzheimer’s groups listed above.
For more information and resource assistance, e-mail Pam Scott at email@example.com or call 683-7047. She has many years of experience working with seniors and their families in skilled nursing, assisted living, transportation and benefits. Scott is the community relations director for Discovery Memory Care in Sequim.
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