Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease of the future. With the growing aged population, this disease, which affects primarily the elderly, will become of increasing relevance to the medical profession. Also, the high frequency of Alzheimer’s, and the high cost in labor, money, and material of caring for its victims shall put considerable burden on the society as a whole. Here, however, these issues are not going to be debated. Instead the pathology of Alzheimer’s will be reviewed to the extent it is known today.
Alzheimer’s disease in many ways is not yet defined. It is a progressive disease afflicting between 5 and 15 percent of people over 65. Additionally, it is not restricted to the elderly, reportedly having presented in teenagers. Prior to 1960, the term Alzheimer’s was reserved for presenile dementia’s resulting in death within 5 years where the classical neuroanatomic changes were seen upon autopsy. Currently, there is still considerable debate as to whether the disease called Alzheimer’s in the elderly is the same disease as that called Alzheimer’s in younger people. In addition, recent and past research into Alzheimer’s has been in geared toward defining the disease as much as describing the disease process. Presently, diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is based on characteristic dysfunction’s of the individual and on brain biopsy or post-mortem brain autopsy looking for cortical degeneration, a preponderance of plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles.
Exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease is unknown. Aging has been blamed for Alzheimer’s. The preponderance of cases being among the aged supports this theory but the existence of Alzheimer’s scattered across the population not explained. Transmissible agents such as viruses yet undiscovered have been put down as a possible cause of Alzheimer’s. Others claim that there is a genetic component, and the presence of a similar if not identical disease in victim’s of Down’s Syndrome provide a foundation for this theory. In addition, decreased cerebral blood flow, environmental toxins and a decrease in acetylcholine have all been labeled potential culprits. Various theories for the cause of Alzheimer’s have been put forth but as yet none have been shown true.
Certain qualities are consistently observed in the Alzheimer’s victim. These dysfunction’s, though, are not exclusive to Alzheimer’s disease. Consequently, declaring Alzheimer’s by these parameters is a matter of degree rather than an absolute. Characteristic dysfunction’s have been noted in Alzheimer’s victims, but the degree and severity of these varies from patient to patient. Thus, evaluation of the patient’s mental status must be made based on the sum, rather than a single characteristic. Memory is one of the first noticed deficiencies, beginning typically with the recent and short term memory, and progressing from there as the disease grows more severe. In addition, deterioration in language skills,...