One of the problems affecting the old people is Alzheimer’s disease, which is a dementia problem that causes loss of memory and affects thinking and people’s behaviors. Since large numbers of old people are suffering from this disease and since no cure have been established yet, it is important to learn about the disease. This helps in understanding its causes, effects and other related information in order to help in coming up with intervention strategies.
Definition of the Problem
As seen in the introduction, Alzheimer's disease is one of the major problems affecting the old people. The disease was discovered in 1906 by a doctor whose name is Alois Alzheimer. The doctor noticed studied a woman whose death had been as a result of some unusual mental illness, according to the doctor’s diagnosis at that time. The symptoms that had been identified on the deceased were language problem, memory loss and erratic behavior among others. After the patient’s death, the doctor examined her brain in order to determine the exact problem whereby abnormal clumps were found. Other tangled fibers were also found on the diseased brain.
Today, the tangles found on the patient’s brain are still viewed as some of the main features of the disease. The other related features include loss of neurons or nerve cells connections between the brain’s neurons or nerve cells. The work of these neurons is to transmit or transport messages in the different parts of the brain and in the different body organs from the brain.
The symptoms of this particular disease do not develop in a day. Instead, they develop gradually getting worse in the due course to eventually interfere with the individual’s daily tasks. Alzheimer's is known as the commonest form of dementia, which is the term used to refer to intellectual abilities and memory loss affecting individuals to a point of interfering with their lives. Among the recorded cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is known to account for more than 60% of all these cases meaning that it is the most prevalent.
Scientists are still working hard to determine the changes involved in the disease progression. One of the scientists finding is that the brain damage starts a time before the appearance of other cognitive problems and memory loss. People in this stage are reported as being free from the symptoms. However, they are considered to have toxic changes in the brain during the process. Abnormal protein deposits are also reported as being found on the brain, which leads to eventual lack of functioning of the healthy neurons and eventual death. The part of the brain affected by these changes is the part that is responsible for memory formation, which is why memory loss is considered one of the symptoms of this disease.
The progression of the disease starts from mild to moderate, which then continue to severe form of the disease. The mild form of this disease involves mild memory loss and this is the stage within which the disease is diagnosed. The next form is the moderate part of it whereby damage occurs in the brain in order to affect sensory processing, control of language, reasoning and conscious thought. In the second stage, confusion and memory loss tends to worsen and it becomes hard for patients to recognize their friends and family members. During this stage, it is also possible for patients to have difficulties in learning new things and carrying other tasks that requires steps such as dressing. It is also at this stage that patients find it hard to cope with new conditions. Other symptoms in this stage include paranoia, delusions and hallucinations among other symptoms.
The last stage of Alzheimer’s disease is the severe stage whereby the tangles and plaques spread to almost all parts of the brain. In this stage, there is also a severe shrinking of the brain tissues. Patients in this stage can barely communicate and they also fully depend on other people for their care. The end of the stage may involve total bed ridding of the patient since the body may completely shut down.
The cause of this disease to many people is still uncertain. However, some people during their early onset have been observed to have some genetic mutations, which is the cause to such people. However, the cause of this problem to people who develop it at a late stage is related to complex brain changes that takes place over time. With such knowledge, scientists argue that the cause of the disease is related to factors that include environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors. However, each of these factors differs from one person to the other.
Population Affected by Alzheimer's Disease
The disease affects people from ages 65years and older. However, although one of the greatest identified risks of Alzheimer's is age, the disease is not a part of the normal aging cycle. This is because there have been cases of early disease onset where people between the ages of 30-60 have been identified as suffering from the disease.
Scientists have found out an Alzheimer's known as the early-onset Alzheimer's. This disease occurs among people from as low as 30 years to 60 years. However, such cases are not as prevalent since they account for less than five percent of Alzheimer’s cases. Patients under the early onset category have been observed to have some inherited gene changes. However, there are others in this category who develop the problem without any inheritance related changes like it does on those one the late onset category.
Another population that is known to be affected by Alzheimer's is those with Down syndrome since most of them develop Alzheimer's. One of the speculated reasons of this relation is because of the extra chromosome copy, which is known for its ability to develop harmful Alzheimer related proteins known as amyloids.
As observed earlier, Alzheimer’s condition increases with time meaning that it is a progressive illness whereby the symptoms of dementia increases gradually with time and with age increase. During the early stages of life, memory loss of people with Alzheimer's is minimal or mild. However, such people later lose their ability to converse with others and to act in response to their environment as they progress with age.
Cultural/Financial/Legal/Ethical Implication of the Disease
Today, Alzheimer's disease has been recorded as among the leading death cause in the world and especially in developed countries such as the US. Research done to determine the life span of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease found out that many live 8 years on average since their diagnosis or since the symptoms become visible to other people. However, this does not mean that survival cannot go beyond this age since some can live for up to 20 years since their time of diagnosis. This, however, is very dependent on such things as health conditions and age of the patients. The daily care of Alzheimer’s patients is also related to various financial, emotional and physical costs. Family role changes related to the disease are also costly and can cause various legal, cultural and ethical implications on top of financial implications.
Currently, there is no cure for this illness. However, symptoms can be treated and researchers are still working hard to come up with ways of curing this problem. In addition, it is worthy to understand that there is no treatment to prevent the disease from progressing. However, worsening of the condition can be prevented through improve quality care.
Since the disease is complex, there is no one drug that can help with the intervention. Because of this, the current intervention strategies help in maintaining the mental functions of the patients and managing their behaviors. The interventions also work to delay the disease’s symptoms.
There are medications that have been found to be helpful in maintain the mental functions of patients with Alzheimer’s. Such drugs help in moderating the disease by the regulation of neurotransmitters. Others help in maintaining of the patients’ thinking, altering behavior patterns and aiding in communication skills. None of these drugs, however, alter the principal disease process. The drugs also vary in effectiveness as they are effective for a number of but not all of them. Others also help in intervening at a limited time.
Because behavior is one of the most affected process of a patients’ lives, some drugs and intervention strategies work to manage their behaviors. Some of the common behavioral indicators of Alzheimer’s consist of agitation, sleeplessness, aggression, wandering and anxiety. Behavioral intervention strategies use personal care as the main method of modifying behaviors. Because of this, taking care of such care-givers need to be well-informed regarding the disease as a long-term strategy, which is considered a very important strategy.
Other strategies includes coming up with programs that educate families and caregivers about the disease’s stages and ways of dealing with complicated behaviors elicited by patients. Other strategies that can be incorporated include a sturdy support network and high-quality coping skills in order to help caregivers in handling stress related to the caring of loved ones.
Researchers are also working hard to determine whether there are ways of preventing the disease or delaying the disease onset until later in life. One of the main areas of concerns by the scientists is on the causes of the tangles and plagues found on patients’ brain. Research in this area has been greatly aided by technology since it allows scientists to view the brain and its developments. Technology also allows doctors to view the spread of abnormal brain proteins and amyloids together with brain function and structure changes that take place as a result. Many scientists have also become interested in the early steps of the disease whereby they study the body and the fluid changes related to this condition. This is done with the hope that the cause will be determined and that diagnosis will be made easier.
Another mystery that scientists are trying to unlock is why adults are the ones mostly affected by the disease and researchers are coming up with interesting findings. For example, some scientists have come into conclusion that changes related to age are responsible for harming neurons, which is one of the problems that causes the disease. Due to age related factors, some parts of brain shrink while others produce unstable molecules. Other parts suffer from inflammation and mitochondrion dysfunction among other problems.
Scientists have also found out the gene associated with the late onset of the disease being discussed. APOE or The apolipoprotein E gene has been linked to the late onset of this disease. The gene exists in several forms and it is one of the forms known as APOE ε4 that is responsible for the age related problem. However, it is important to understand that not all people who carry this form of the gene have the disease.
In conclusion, one of the problems affecting the old people is Alzheimer’s. In most cases, the problem affects people above 65 years of age. However, there are cases when the disease affects people as low as 30 years of age. The disease is related to various healths, financial and physical problems such that intervention is necessary. Since there is no established cure, various strategies such as behavior management, mental treatment and mental care are being used. In addition, scientists are tirelessly working on this problem in order to come up with treatment or prevention strategies.