Millions of people are becoming caregivers for friends and family members with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a silent epidemic that’s creating family crises around the world. In addition to the shock of the sudden dependency, at least some caregivers (family members and professionals) are being misinformed and exposed to deadly pathogens that can spread the disease.
“A good caregiver who understands the disease, its symptoms and progression is crucial to the overall well-being of people with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Fred Kobylarz, a dementia expert at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University. “Alzheimer’s disease has become pervasive in the United States and around the world. It affects people in all walks of life,” Kobylarz said. “It is a problem that needs action and attention.”
Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with memory problems have a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In MCI, people have more memory problems than normal for their age, but their symptoms do not interfere with their everyday lives. Movement difficulties and problems with the sense of smell have also been linked to MCI. Older people with MCI are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but not all do. Some may even go back to normal cognition.
The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person. For many, decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as speech, vision, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease in most people. There is a genetic component to some cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Late-onset Alzheimer’s arises from a complex series of brain changes that occur over decades. The causes probably include a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
“Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disease in. Aggregation of the β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide within the brain is thought to spark the AD pathogenesis. Many recent studies in transgenic mice have proven that Aβ aggregates become self-propagating (infectious) during disease, leading to a cascade of protein aggregation in the brain, which may underlie the progressive nature of AD. The ability to self-propagate and the existence of distinct “strains” reveals that Aβ aggregates exhibit many properties indistinguishable from deadly prions. We have evidence that Aβ can become a prion during disease,” said Dr. Stanley Prusiner. “I learned that scrapie, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and kuru had all been shown to be transmissible by injecting extracts of diseased brains into the brains of healthy animals. Whether prions are responsible for common neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease is a possibility that should not be ignored.”
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