July 23, 2013, by Faye Greenwood
“I can’t quite remember”
Ageing is an inevitable part of life. There is no way to reverse time. You can indulge in botox, face-lifts and fillers to control the external, noticeable ageing process, but despite a youthful exterior there is no preventing the continual ageing of organs and tissues. Despite the myriad of potions and procedures developed to provide a youthful look, little is known about the inner ageing of the body or the reasons why and how some internal visceral organs are affected by ageing greater than others. The ageing and degeneration of the body is noticeably seen in the brain, with Alzheimers being one of many diseases’ which primarily affect the elderly.
820,000 people in the UK are affected by dementia which is used to describe a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells (neurones) in the brain die or no longer function normally. This results in changes to sufferers’ memory, ability to think clearly and behaviour. There are many different types of dementia with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common form accounting for an estimated 60-80% of cases and affecting approximately 496,000 people in the UK alone. Alzheimers disease is caused by protein fragments beta-amyloid (plaques) and twisted strands of the protein tau (tangles) developing in the structure of the brain leading to irreversible nerve damage and death of brain cells. Accumulation of beta-amyloid (plaques) outside neurons is believed to interfere with neurone-to-neurone communication and contribute to cell death whilst inside the neurone, abnormally high levels of tau (tangles) block transport of nutrients and other essential molecules for brain function through the cell with this process also believed to cause cell death. This eventually results in brain shrinkage from cell loss and debris from dead and dying neurons. Furthermore, patients also experience chemical alterations-shortage of acetylcholine- affecting transmission of messages within the brain.
The effects of the disease impairs an individuals ability to perform basic bodily functions – walking and swallowing – along with memory loss, changes in mood, communication problems as well as many other devastating symptoms. The progressive nature of the disease results in increasing severity of symptoms over time.
Although 3 known genetic mutations can cause Alzheimers in individuals as young as 30, the greatest risk factor for the disease is ageing. However, similarly to how everyone ages differently, there is no Altzheimers case which is identical and thus there is no definitive conclusion of the risk factors involved. Most experts believe that Alzheimers results from a combination of reasons rather than a single cause; age, genetic inheritance, environmental factors, lifestyle and overall general health contribute to the onset of the disease.
Currently there is no cure for Alzhemiers disease. However, drug treatments are available which don’t alter the underlying cause of the terminal disease but stabilize the individual by slowing the progression of the disease or temporarily alleviate some symptoms. For mild-moderate stages; Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl are available to maintain the chemical (acetylcholine) levels in the brain. Whilst for moderate-severe stages of the disease Ebixa is available, with a different mechanism of action to the other medications.
Although there are drugs available to inhibit the rapid onset of dementia and improve both sufferers and carers quality of life alike, there is as yet no cure for Alzheimers. Whilst the Government has pledged to double their funding into dementia research, currently only 2.5% of the Government’s medical research budget is spent on dementia research with relatively low numbers of clinical trials into drug research. The number of individuals suffering is expected to rise as our ageing population increases. The disparity with this lack of funding poses an undeniably crucial question…why? Maybe it’s the shortage of publicity about Altzheimers, lack of knowledge, seen as an old persons disease who are not regarded as priority in society, its often a contributing factor to death not the cause or are we in denial as the risk is not imminent due to it commonly occurring in the later stages of life?
Whatever the reason, the impact both economically on the country in order to care for those suffering and emotionally for families will rise over time, thus signaling a pivotal need to invest in research into this disease and establish a cure for both Altzheimers and dementia as a whole in order to meet the demand for those now and undoubtedly in the future.
Altzheimer’s Association (US):
Altzheimer’s Research UK:
Altzheimers Society (UK) :