Alzheimer’s Treatment And Research Advances

A Paper On Treatment

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Available Alzheimer’s Treatment & Research Advances

Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes referred to as “AD”, is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects about 5% of the United States population. The disease is characterized by behavioral disturbances, cognitive loss and the individuals diminished ability to engage in everyday life.  While there are no known cures or definitive answers on the causes of the disorder, it is clear that it leads to a host of symptoms that are generally the focus of medical treatment. There are some medications that are believed to slow the progression of the disease, however in most cases the symptoms are treated rather than underlying issues. In recent past there have been advances in medical technology and new treatments that are hopeful of slowing the progression of the disorder, through decreased brain cell loss, however much research is still needed. The purpose of this paper is to explore treatment options of Alzheimer’s disease and new medical findings.

Background Information
            In order to better understand treatment options for AD, it is important to discuss the diseases impact on the person as a whole. An individual having this disorder is generally medically treated in two separate fashions, one for the behavioral symptoms that they exhibit and secondly, for the cognitive symptoms that commonly accompanies the disorder. The reason for the many changes is due to the deterioration of the brain cells and the shrinkage of the physical brain itself. Researchers have found that the spaces in the fold of the brain are enlarged, because the cerebral cortex actually shrinks. The substances typically found in the folds of the brain are known as gyri and are lost as a result of this shrinkage process (Burns, 2011). Another significant finding surrounds the buildup of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which result in the death of brain cells and lead to numerous cognitive losses and further deterioration (Burns). Plaques are deposits of proteins that cover the spaces between actual nerve cells, and the tangles are protein that accumulates inside the actual nerve cell itself. Research has led scientists to believe that these deposits and accumulation block the nerves cells ability to function normally and communicate with one another.  This is believed to be the reason that patients suffering with AD exhibit a number of behavioral changes, as well as cognitive deterioration. Some of the most common of these changes are forgetfulness to the extent of difficulty recalling recent events, misplacing common items, not being able to recite or remember names of those just introduced too, difficulty with language, moodiness, anger, a withdrawn state and difficulty with mentally challenging situations (Alzheimer's Symptoms & Stages, 2011) . With the far reaching symptoms and changes, physicians generally treat symptoms, along with trying to slow the progression of the disease in order to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Treatment For Cognitive Impairment
            Memory loss is the most common cognitive impairment that physicians prescribe medication for. There are currently two types of medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cholinesterason inhibitors and Memantine are used to treat memory loss, reasoning difficulty and confusion (Alzheimer's Association).  Cholinesterason inhibitors are used to slow the progression of the deterioration of nerve cells, therefore improving the communication within the brain. They prevent acetylcholine from breaking down, which is a type of messenger that allows learning and memory functions. Some of the most popular of this class of drug are Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne, which are generally prescribed in the early to mild stages of the disease. As the disease progresses and other chemical messengers are affected, physicians will oftentimes begin using Memantine, which assist the brain in regulating the messenger glutamate, which is also involved in learning and memory, however not affected until the disease is more advanced.

            These medications are thought to help the brain protect the chemical messengers, therefore slowing the loss of cognitive ability. Through the medication, the cells are able to communicate and function normally, therefore improving the patients mental functioning, such as learning, remembering and participating in daily activities. Along with prescription medications, in some cases physicians recommend that patients in a beginning or mild state of Alzheimer’s to begin using Vitamin E due to its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants have been shown to protect brain cells and improve functioning, however is not prescribed for all Alzheimer’s patients. All affected by the disease are encouraged to maintain a healthy diet, engage in exercise and get plenty of rest to combat the diseases progression.  

Treatment For Behavioral Changes
            While Alzheimer’s is generally associated with memory loss and the patient’s inability to remember their family, there are generally a number of behavioral symptoms as well. Not every patient is the same, however many suffer from emotional distress, restlessness, disturbances in their sleep patterns, irritability, delusions and sometimes hallucinations (Alzheimer's Symptoms & Stages, 2011). Depression and other psychiatric issues are commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients, leading to the treatment of a number of different symptoms. The vast changes in the brain, including the deterioration of the brain cells can cause many psychiatric symptoms. It is not uncommon for these patients to suffer from delusions or hallucinations, which is seeing, hearing or believing that something is there when it is actually not. Examples are hearing voices or seeing things that are actually not there. These psychiatric symptoms are commonly treated with antipsychotic medications, also known as neuroleptics. These decrease the symptoms and allow patients to function normally.

            Restlessness and anxiety are also very common in Alzheimer’s patients. This can cause them to have difficulty sitting still, sleep disorders and in some cases lead to impulsive behavior. The inability to rest can lead to further deterioration and symptoms, if not treated. Anxiety can lead to irritation and cause the patient to act aggressively or out of anger, which can place them or others in danger. It is not uncommon for individuals to act aggressively in the later stages of the disease and is assumed to be because of the extensive deterioration of chemicals within the brain. Physicians often prescribe anti-anxiety medications or sleep aids to assist the patient in relaxing and rest. The body is said to repair itself during sleep, which is highly encouraged for Alzheimer’s patients.

Not all patients have the same symptoms or disturbances, but as the disease progresses their symptoms can as well. In many cases an individual in the mild or beginning stages may suffer from anxiety issues, however in the moderate stage they may experience the symptoms associated with major depression. Patients and physicians must work closely, keeping journals and detailing their symptoms, as well as experiences to improve their quality of life.

Latest Treatment Research Findings
            Research efforts are ongoing to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are a number of studies that have been conducted and are currently underway looking for ways to slow the progression, prevent the disease and cure those that are suffering. In a recent study conducted at Northwestern University, researchers found that insulin worked as a protective barrier by reducing a type of toxic protein, known as ADDL’s (Amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands). This protein is known to attach and destroy memory processes within the brain (Northwestern University, 2009). Researchers speculate that the introduction of insulin may actually decrease the effect of the protein in the brain, therefore slowing or stopping the progression of the disease. Anti-diabetic medication is currently being studied to help fight memory loss and deterioration that occurs with Alzheimer’s.

            In a 2009 study conducted at the University of California, the ever controversial stem cells were found to provide hope for slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s. Researchers injected mice that were genetically engineered to have Alzheimer with neural stem cells (University of California, 2009). After the injection these researchers noted improvement in the functioning of these mice a month later. The injected stem cells secreted a protein that actually caused the brain to form new synapses and repair neurons, therefore improving cognitive functioning. Researchers noted that the stem cells did not attack the tangles or plaque, but rather appeared to mend the lost or deteriorated synapses within the brain. While stem cell research remains controversial there have been many advances in the medical field. It is speculated that the use of stem cells can not only improve the cognitive functioning of Alzheimer’s patients, but also slow the progression of the disease and ultimately the death of the individual.

            In conclusion, Alzheimer’s is a disease that touches the lives of many around the world. It is not a discriminatory disorder and while it generally strikes older individuals it has been found in the young as well. Those suffering have a wide range of symptoms, from behavioral symptoms to lessened cognitive ability. It is a difficult disease because it is one that robs individuals of their memories, ability to function productively and in many cases their dignity. It is clearly a misunderstood disease that researchers are attempting to combat with numerous studies and technology.

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Northwestern University (2009, February 3). Insulin Is A Possible New Treatment For
            Alzheimer's. Science Daily.
University of California - Irvine (2009, July 22). Neural Stem Cells May Rescue Memory In
            Advanced Alzheimer's, Mouse Study Suggests. Science Daily

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