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Chances are that most of us have heard of Alzheimer's disease before, and we may know a family member who suffers from the terrible disease. A startling statistic shows that Alzheimer's is the "fourth leading cause of death for those over 65. By the year 2040 an estimated 14 million will be living with the disease" ().

I personally find Alzheimer's to be a very interesting disease from a medical standpoint not only because it's found most often in older/senior adults, but because it's not caused by and bacteria or virus, but instead a plaque and protein buildup that's made inside the brain. Two or three hypothesis of how Alzheimer's disease originates have come about.
The first hypothesis is that of amyloid plaque. When amyloid is found in large quantities it will undergo a conformational change to accommodate the large number of molecules. However, if there are numerous amyloid's present then this conformation change results in the formation of a plaque which is made up of "mostly insoluble deposits of protein and cellular material outside and around neurons" These massive formations of amyloid are thought to be synthesized and cause a disruption of the brains "calcium ion homeostasis" and thus lead to cell death (which would be why we would see much darker almost completely occluded spots on an MRI of a patient with Alzeheimer's than of a brain scan of a normal brain).

There is another protein located in the brain that has been shown to be a contributor of Alzheimer's Disease. This protein is called "Tau." Tau's main function in a healthy brain is the stabilization of the brains cytoskeleton. However, the hypothesis is that when Tau is over synthesized, or even under-synthesized, as it is in a person with Alzheimer's disease, Tau itself causes a buildup and "tangles" neurons or collapses them. Unfortunately for your brain, this tangling/collapsing causes your neurons not to fire correctly. This improper firing causes the signs/symptoms that are well known with this disease: memory loss, learning, thinking and reasoning disabilities.

Researchers are having a difficult time with advancements on how to treat Alzheimer's disease because our brains are encased in what's called a "Blood Brain Barrier" which allows only very specific hormones and blood regulation through. Recent research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester has biochemists attempting to engineer proteins that will be able to pass through our BBB and attach itself specifically to the amyloid/senile plaque areas so that scientists can image the areas via MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
In time, the Mayo Clinic also hopes it will be able to engineer a vaccine that will cease the amyloid/senile plaques from forming clumps in the brain.

1. Do you know of someone struggling with this terrible disease?
2. Did you find any of this information to be insightful?

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Over winter break, I volunteered in the Memory Care Unit at a local nursing home. The Memory Care Unit is filled with elderly residence who cannot live on their own because they cannot remember which is extremely dangerous for their well being. It was extremely insightful volunteering there and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While volunteering, I met a couple (both with extreme memory loss) who had met in the nursing home and were convinced that they were married. They acted just like a married couple and held hands all the time. It was very sweet. However, occasionally the mans REAL wife would come to visit him and the "nursing home wife" would sit at another table and glare at her. It was very sad for all of the people involved. When a family member develops Alzhiemer's, it's almost like losing the whole person because they are never the person they were before. It makes me hopeful that so many people are researching this disease in hopes of finding a cure. It is very heartbreaking to watch people with this disease!

Mis-folded protein diseases like Alzeimer's, Parkinson's, and mad cow disease are some of the scariest! Scientists know almost nothing about how to stop them. Scientists don't even understand how mad cow disease really works, how one misfolded protein can cause other normal ones to misfold! More research needs to be done!

I did find much of this information to be insightful. Both my great aunt and my grandfather developed Alzhiemer's. My grandpa died before his got bad but my great aunt's Alzhiemer's was pretty bad. It was saddening to see her so frustrated with life because she couldn't figure anything out. My mom was her primary caretaker from the family so I got to see the development of Alzhiemer's first hand. To me, your blog was interesting because I always saw the outside effects of the disease but never really understood where it was coming from.

This is interesting and good information to pass on Athena. Although there are many biological challenges to be overcome in dealing with Alzheimers, it, like cancer, is likely to be with us for a very long time and perhaps will never really be eliminated by medication and treatment.

I think the greater question rests with how we approach end of life issues and the fact that our brains may give out before our bodies do. This is a huge ethical dilemma for those who are caring for someone with the disease.

Death is a subject we tend to ignore and are ill prepared to deal with when it approaches. Today I feel that I would want to die instead of being someone who cannot relate to others or remember anything. I might not feel comfortable ending the life of a parent or loved one who is in that same condition when they can't make the decision for themselves.

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This page contains a single entry by galva034 published on March 19, 2012 10:12 AM.

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