A Public Service Announcement by Callie Ollish

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimers is the most common form of dementia, and it is the sixth leading cause of death. This disease effects the physiology of the brain and the processes. The most common problems occurred are issues with memory, thinking and behavior. Though this is not a normal part of aging, it does worsen over time. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer's at this time.


What are the Symptoms?

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with language
  • Disorientation regarding time and place
  • Poor judgement
  • Misplacing things
  • Change in mood, personality and initiative
It should be noted that some of these symptoms are normal in people that are aging; however, these symptoms are debilitating and often are pervasive in the patients life.


Why Do These Symptoms Happen?

When your brain reaches the ripe age of twenty it begins to lose cells. It slows down and begins to produce less of the chemicals that it needs to make it work efficiently. This causes processes like storing and retrieval of memory to be affected. Patients often will not remember what is socially accepted, leading to weird instances where grandma walks out of the bathroom naked. Forgetting how to speak or hold fluid conversation is often common.


How Does This Disease Progress?

Alzheimer's has three distinctive phases:

Mild Alzheimer's:

Diagnosis usually occurs during this phase. Common occurrences include getting lost, issues handling money, repeating questions, normal tasks take longer to complete, lapses in judgement and slight changes in mood and personality.

Moderate Alzheimer's:

This is the where brain damage usually starts to ramp up. Damage occurs in areas that deals with reasoning, sensory processing, language and conscious thought. The confusion ensues. Patients find it hard to learn new things or complete tasks that have multiple steps. This is when the patient usually starts forgetting the faces and names of their family. Moreover, some patients start having hallucinations, delusions and may have trouble controlling impulses.

Severe Alzheimer's:

Tangles and Plaques spread throughout the brain, and the level of brain shrinkage is severe. The body begins to shut down and patients spend most of the time in bed, completely dependent on their caretakers for help. Patients have a lot of trouble communicating with other people.


Who is Affected?

  • 5 million of the 5.2 million affected are age 65 or older
  • Women tend to have Alzheimer's more often. This has been attributed to women living longer, and once age is considered, the difference is negligible.
  • More common in people that are less educated. Data has been collected to prove that more education may help cognitive function.
Also, scientists may have singled out a gene that effects Alzheimer's; however, currently, it is looking like it is not the only factor in whether or not a patient is affected by Alzheimer's. Furthermore, the genetic link that is sometimes perpetuated is simply a half truth. Familial Alzheimer's tends to spread quicker, but it only affects 2-5% of cases.


Personal Accounts of Alzheimer's

I grew up around a really loving family, and I remember on my tenth birthday, my grandfather taught me how to fish in his pond. That's the last good memory I have with him. Soon after, he started to go downhill. My mom told me that he had Alzheimer's, and, since I was so young, I didn't really understand what the disease was and what all of the implications were. The details from the beginning of his battle are a little fuzzy, this isn't a disease that kills quickly, and it's just as debilitating to the family and the people surrounding the patient as to the patient themselves. It's really rough to watch someone that you share all these memories with, slowly slip through your fingers like sand. Throughout the years, I started to see my grandfather less and less; where I would normally journey to Kentucky at least three times a year, I was reduced to seeing my family for three days at a time at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It disrupted my grandfather's schedule too much for us to be there any longer; progressively throughout the stay he would become more and more angry in his general demeanor.

Longer throughout his progression, I noticed he was staying in bed a lot. Not waking up for his morning tea, staying in bed until one or two in the afternoon. Apparently, he went really down hill in the last 6 months; I wasn't able to see him. I've heard he was really thin. In the last days he forgot how to swallow, and he had been slowly starving to death; he would refuse to eat more than what he absolutely had to. He didn't even look like himself in the casket. He finally died on August Twentieth 2014, after 6 years of suffering from Alzheimer's, he was released to the Lord. In loving memory, we love you Pawpaw.

The Physiology of Alzheimer's

Differences in Brain Matter

Throughout the stages of Alzheimer's the brain progressively shrinks. This shrinkage is most obvious in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that deals with processing long term memories. This is due to massive nerve cell death and tissue loss. Also, the cortex shrivels up, the part of the brain that helps with planning, thinking and remembering. The cortex increases the amount of surface area on the brain, as it portrays the iconic folded parts of the brain. Lastly, the ventricles grow, filling the brain with more fluid than normal, as displayed in the pictures above.


How Can This Be Treated?

There are three main ways that doctor's manage Alzheimer's, as there is no cure. These three partitions are: maintaining mental function, managing behavior and slowing or delaying symptoms.

Maintaining mental function is focused around drug regulation and finding the best drug to preserve the patient's thinking, memory, speaking skills and behavior. Drugs like Exelon, Aricept and Razadyne helps treat mild to moderate Alzheimer's; whereas, Aricept and Namenda commonly treat moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Drugs typically change throughout treatment.

Managing behavior helps both the patient and the family members or caretakers. Non-drug and drug therapy has been used to help with this portion of treatment. Researchers are trying to study why some of these debilitating symptoms, like memory loss, happen, in order to treat them. This makes the patient more comfortable and easier to take care of, with less outbursts.

The final phase of treatment is slowing and delaying the symptoms of Alzheimer's. This addresses the process of the disease and how it processes. It focuses on preventing the disease and slowing down its progress.


Connections to the Biological Level of Analysis

The principles that define the Biological Level of Analysis:

1. Emotions and behaviors are products of the anatomy and physiology of the of the nervous and endocrine systems:

As the tissues and cells of the brain break down so do the processes of the brain. Neurons die and there's less synapses to transmit neurotransmitters to balance memory and behavior, so these processes change according the the areas of the brain damaged.

2. Patterns of behavior can be inherited:

There has been research done to try and determine whether or not Alzheimer's is genetic; however, it seems that Alzheimer's is not totally inherited through genes. There is a type of Alzheimer's that is inherited (called familial Alzheimer's) that does spread more rapidly; however, it only effects 2-5% of cases. Moreover, it could be a combination of genes that leave a person predisposed to the disease and environmental factors.


Connections of the Cognitive Level of Analysis

The principles that define the Cognitive Level of Analysis:

1. Mental processes can and should be studied scientifically by developing theories and by using a variety of research methods.

A multitude of research is being done in fields regarding Alzheimer's. Clinical trials are always undergoing tests and research to see if drugs can be synthesized to help aide in relief, or to see if drugs that are already being used could have applications in Alzheimer's. Also, tests are happening to determine causes or could treat Alzheimer's. For example, antioxidants are being tested to determine whether or not it could be a cause or a treatment, depriving the brain of oxygen or giving it the oxygen that it so dearly needs. Researchers are trying to determine if physical activity and cognitive therapy could also help.

In the future, I think that memory models should be investigated in order to better understand the process of storing memories so that treatments can be developed to combat memory loss in patients dealing with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia.