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Alzheimer’s and the Loss of the Self

These recent years, Alzheimer’s Disease has gained widespread attention, as its degenerative effects were gradually understood because of the depictions not just in medical literature but also in the media. The collective work of researchers and the various media platforms, catapulted the disease from one of the rare ones to one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control identified Alzheimer’s Disease, based on 2010 preliminary data, as the sixth leading cause of death in the country. (CDC 2012) Since its discovery in 1906, the disease has still no known cure even after numerous clinical efforts to develop one. Needless to say, the disease has confounded medical experts and scientists and considering the amount of time that elapsed since its discovery, very little information is known about its cause(s). Today, once an individual is diagnosed with one, the downward spiral in a chilling process of losing oneself to dementia. It is irreversible and the lifespan is considered to last a maximum of seven years. These are the reasons why Alzheimer is widely recognized as a grave public health threat: it is one of the most perplexing and serious diseases and, unfortunately, the medical field cannot do anything to address the dilemma as yet.
This paper will investigate the disease and for this purpose, outline its definition, its causes and treatments.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer is recognized as a form of dementia but that one that inevitably worsens over time, hence, the degenerative classification. What this means is that, as a form of this brain disorder, the disease involves the loss of brain function, affecting a sufferer’s memory, his thinking, and behavior. Particularly, an individual may display difficulty with many areas of mental function such as emotional behavior or personality, language, perception, among other areas within his or her cognitive skills. (NCBI 2011) Symptoms that are specific to Alzheimer’s disease are divided into two classifications: early symptoms and the worsened case. The following lists typify the former:
•Trouble in doing simple tasks that require thought such as playing complex games and learning new things;
•Getting lost and getting easily confused;
•Forgetting names of objects that should have been familiar;
•Constantly misplacing things; and,
•A gradual change in personality and behavior especially towards other people. (NCIB 2011)

When AD is in its advance stage, symptoms already interfere with the capability of an individual to take care of himself. He or she would start experiencing: changes in sleeping pattern; delusions, hallucinations and depressions; difficulty in doing tasks; poor judgment especially in one’s ability to recognize danger; violent behavior; forgetting events, among other severe forms of the early symptoms of the disease. (NCIB 2011) Severe Alzheimer would finally incapacitate a person to understand language, recognize people and perform all things necessary to live. He or she would no longer have the ability to eat, dress and bathe by himself. For other experts these classifications are recognized as mild, moderate and severe Alzheimer’s Diseases. This classification is important because it helps health practitioners and care providers to appropriately provide the AD patients’ needs. For example, as the disease progresses into the severe stage, the classification will make it imperative for a care provider or an aide to stay with the patient at home because the patient will no longer able to care for himself.

The Quest for the Cure
A review of the medical literature on Alzheimer reveals certain commonalities: the vigorous search for a cure and the failures in the attempts, which is partly due to the failure in identifying its cause. This latter aspect is highlighted in the uncertainty in the extant literature about claims as to what causes AD. For example, Wilson and Bennett back in 2003 posited a controversial proposition, suggesting that the disease is caused by the loss or infrequent participation in cognitive activities. The idea is that frequent intellectual activity as evidenced by the low incidence of the disease in the educated class (which is associated with higher cognitive stimulations due to their work environment) and the neurobiological mechanisms triggered by cognitive activities to the brain. (p. 88-89) Then, there are those who discount this claim, explaining that genetics is a fundamental cause for the mental disorder. There are numerous other explanations such as the identification of several chemical and biological agents that supposedly eats up or damages parts of the brain and neuron connections, eventually causing dementia.

The general consensus appears to be that the answers will be derived from studying the characteristic brain changes that occur in AD patients. An interesting area in this respect is how the disease’s emergence in sixty-five year old patients is recognized to be caused by genetic abnormality. (NYMC 2011) These variables highlight how researchers are certain and focused at the combination of genetics and environmental factors in finding clues as what triggers the disease and work from there in order to find a cure. Presently, experts are able to loosely provide a profile of people at risk of contracting the disease based on these variables. Some of the profile attributes include: aging people, those with close blood relatives who have the disease, among others.

Since there is no cure discovered yet, the medical care available for treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease are only in the areas of addressing its symptoms. For example, the cholinesterase inhibitors help to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain crucial in an individual’s capacity for memory and learning. (WebMD 2012) This intervention can only regulate and manage certain symptoms. The chemicals facilitate brain connections by preventing the loss of cholinesterase and making it more available so that the progression of cognitive impairment slows down. (ADR 2012)
Unarguably, the most important aspect in the quest for Alzheimer’s Disease cure is the holding of the clinical trials. Since the discovery of the disease, clinical trials have been undertaken and these involve the testing of new ways to identify, treat and prevent the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the Alzheimer Association (2011), there are two important hindrance to the success of clinical trials being conducted presently, which, for their part are claimed to hold great promise. These are the lack in funding and the recruitment of trial participants. Addressing these issues is important because without these trials, there is no hope of ever finding a way to solve the health threat. It is worth noting that researchers and scientists have already greatly contributed to the understanding of the disease and the treatment of its symptoms. For societies that have ageing population, Alzheimer’s Disease is a grave concern. In the United States, it will affect one in 45 Americans within the next 50 years. (WebMD) Treatments and clinical trials have become imperative.

As a leading cause of death, Alzheimer’s Disease is a public concern not just because it is health threat. It has also its economic and social dimensions. As people lose themselves to the disease, the burden to the body is aggravated by the financial resources entailed in caring for the patient. In addition, it robs the sufferers their dignity to live their lives while imposing tremendous emotional strain on family and friends and even the community. Treatment, understanding and several other variables all come into play in a complex attempt to negotiate and come to terms with the disease. This is tragic because any hope for a cure is still far from being discovered.

Alzheimer Association. (2011). “About Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch.” Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from:
“Alzheimer’s Disease,” (2012). NYU Medical Center/NYU School of Medicine. Retrieved from
Alzheimer’s Disease Research (ADR). (2012). “Alzheimer’s Disease”. American Health Assistance Foundation. AHAF. Retrived from
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2012). “Leading Causes of Death.” CDC. Retrieved from
WebMD. (2012). “A Treatment Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease.” WebMD. Retrieved from
Wilson, R. and Bennett, D. (2003). “Cognitive Activity and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 87-91. Retrived from


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