Imagine waking up one morning and you cannot remember where you are or your own child’s name. This could be a direct sign that you or a family member has Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, which means that it affects certain functions of the brain such as memory, logic, and everyday bodily functions. This disease was first described by a doctor named Alois Alzheimer in 1906. He discovered unusual growths of fibers in the brains of woman that had died from an unusual mental illness (National Institute, 1995).
Many people do not realize how severe this disease really is. These people also do not realize how much of a risk there is of developing the disease. Four million people in the United States today are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that about 22 million people around the world currently have this disease (St.George-Hyslop, 2000). Another very interesting fact about Alzheimer’s is that the changes in the brain take place 20 to 40 years before the patient shows any symptoms. About ten percent of Americans have this disease by the age of 65, and about 50 percent of Americans have the disease by the age of 85. People can live well into their 90s, and they still retain most of their memories and control of their bodies (Kahn, 1998). This disease is a disease that everyone in the United States should be concerned about.
Scientists believe that they know what causes this disease to occur. It is caused by proteins in the brain that go terribly wrong. These proteins form clusters inside the brain, and they produce a toxin that affects nerve cells. These nerve cells are then lost, and this affects certain parts of the brain that control certain functions. This directly affects two parts of the brain, the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. These two parts of the brain control memory, reasoning, language, and other bodily functions (St. George-Hyslop, 2000). Alzheimer’s disease has a major effect on not only the patient’s life, but on the lives of the patient’s family as well.
This disease takes a very slow path in its development. It may start as just some short-term memory loss. This means that a person with Alzheimer’s may forget little things, like what he or she ate for dinner last night or why they went to the refrigerator. These symptoms can be overlooked as just a part of the aging process. As the disease progresses, however, the symptoms get much worse. Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s forget where they are, and they can even forget what they are doing half way through a simple task, like making toast (National Institute, 1995). A few years ago, I went to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house. My whole family knew that my great aunt had Alzheimer’s, but no one knew how bad it had gotten.
My aunt and I always had great conversations about life, but when I went to say “hello” to her, she did not even know my name. She could hardly...