[SENIOR MOMENTS] Is It Alzheimer’s?

As we get older, our bodies don’t always cooperate with our wants. We put up with lower energy, less agility, muscular aches, hearing loss or vision impairments that we didn’t have when we were younger.

It is just part of living, we say.

But the brain is one part of our being that poses a different problem. With aging, all of us experience our “senior moments.” Yet, it is scary, because those bits of forgetfulness could evolve into dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease, a disease without a cure.

Aging doesn’t automatically result in dementia. However, the incidence of dementia does increase with age. The brain degenerates over time due to deterioration of nerve cells.

The nerve impulses slow down. Thus, by the time an individual is 85, there is a 33 percent chance of dementia developing.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of cases. The National Alzheimer’s Organization reports that 5.4 million people 65 and older have the disease in the United States.

They also suggest that these numbers will triple by 2050, barring the development of a medical breakthrough.

The condition is devastating. Abnormal plaques and tangles start to develop around the nerve cells causing their death. With time, the accumulation is believed to result into abnormalities of memory, thinking and behavior.

Research and ways of treating Alzheimer’s have been evolving. Scientists in the field still do not have full understanding of how the decline works and what specifically causes it.

Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H, editor of the Memory Disorders Bulletin, Scientific American Consumer Health, wrote that there have been three stages in Alzheimer’s research.

First, the identification of Alzheimer’s in 1906 confirmed that dementia was a series of diseases, rather than an inevitable result of aging.

Second, scientists learned that the disease could be broken down into stages, each with different symptoms requiring different caregiving.

Finally, for the past forty years, research has been asking these questions. Are there risk factors that encourage the creation of the disease?

Are there drugs that reverse or keep the disease from progressing? Are there assessment techniques that can pick up the symptoms early?

The answers are still forthcoming with a lot of research underway. We’ll get them eventually.

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