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What is Alzheimer’s disease?

One of the most common progressive forms and causes of dementia is the neurological disorder Alzheimer’s. This irreversible and progressive disorder causes the brain to slowly degenerate affecting one’s thinking capacity, destroying their memory, disrupting their ability to carry simple day-to-day tasks, and ultimately wasting away the brain’s functionality. The progression of the disease is divided into seven main stages:

Stage 1: Here, there might be diagnostic evidence of the disease based on a family history of Alzheimer’s but there are no evident symptoms.

Stage 2: At this stage, the earliest symptom which is memory loss or forgetfulness starts presenting itself.

Stage 3: Other mild symptoms like minor mental and physical impairments like reduced concentration and agility begin to appear. However, these traits may only be noticeable to spouses or really close family and friends.

Stage 4: It is at this stage that Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed, however, the disease is still at its mild stages. The cognitive impairment becomes more evident as the individual becomes more incapable of performing everyday tasks.

Stage 5: At this stage, patients may now require more assistance form loved ones and caregivers. The symptoms now begin presenting themselves as moderate to severe.

Stage 6: At this point, the affected individual requires help to carry out everyday tasks like wearing clothes and eating.

Stage 7: The last and most severe stage in the progression of the disease is dementia. On top of the loss of memory, the individual is at this point also struggling with the loss of speech and movement of facial expressions.

Based on current statistics, Alzheimer’s diseases is the sixth leading cause of death in America. While Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, the greatest known risk factor of the disease is increasing in age. Majority of the individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are typically well in their 60s or older. However, this does not mean that the disease only affects the older generation. Close to 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Many individuals affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s are likely to be in their 40s and 50s. As of now, many doctors are unclear as to what exactly what causes early-onset Alzheimer’s at such a young age. However, a few scientists have identified a number of rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s among a few families worldwide. In particular, the Apolipoprotein (APOPE) gene has been linked by scientists to the onset of Alzheimer’s in elderly people.

Alzheimer’s disease and the Brain

Long before the first signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, there are some microscopic changes that occur in the brain.  At the core of all the problems that come with the disease, is the general loss of synergy amongst the brain proteins that are supposed to be released so as to function normally thus disrupting the work of the brain neurons and unleashes a chain of catastrophic events.   The two prime suspects of the neuron damage in the brain are two abnormal structures namely plaques and tangles. Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells. When fragments of beta-amyloid cluster together, they appear to have a toxic effect on neurons and to disrupt cell-to-cell communication. These clusters form larger deposits called amyloid plaques, which also include other cellular debris. On the other hand, tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau that builds up inside cells. Tau proteins play a part in a neuron’s internal support and transport system to carry nutrients and other essential materials. In Alzheimer’s disease, tau proteins change shape and organize themselves into structures called neurofibrillary tangles. The tangles disrupt the transport system and are toxic to cells.

Top Medical Practitioners Dealing with The Treatment of Alzheimer’s

Dr. Helena Chang Chui, M.D. is internationally recognized for her research in Alzheimer disease and vascular cognitive impairment. She is the principal investigator for the NIA-funded Alzheimer Disease Research Center, as well as a multi-institutional program project on vascular dementia. She is the author of over 120 publications and has served on the editorial board for Stroke, Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, and Archives of Neurology. She holds the Raymond and Betty McCarron endowed Chair at the Keck School of Medicine and serves as the Chair of the Department of Neurology.

Dr. Melissa Yu, M.d. is a neurologist in Houston, Texas and is affiliated with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. She is one of the leading Alzheimer’s experts with over 19 years of experience. Her specialties include clinical informatics, neurology, and psychiatry.

Dr. Joseph S. Kass, M.D., J.D., FAAN is a Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Medical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, TX. He serves as Associate Dean of Student Affairs in the School of Medicine at and as Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Neurology. He also serves as Chief of Neurology and Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Ben Taub Hospital, the flagship hospital of the Harris Health System, the 3rd largest safety net healthcare system in the U.S. Additionally, he is Director of the Baylor College of Medicine Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center. In addition to serving as a primary investigator on several Phase Ill clinical trials in Alzheimer’s Disease and stroke, Dr. Kass’s research interests include predictors of cognitive decline and the development of neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with dementia, medical student wellness, social determinants of health, and the interface of medical ethics and the law.

Research Proving the Viability of CBD Cannabidiol as a Treatment Agent for Alzheimer’s

research paper from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California has found that tetrahydrocannabinol and other compounds found in marijuana may reduce the amount of beta-amyloid in the brain. Beta-amyloid is a hallmark characteristic of Alzheimer’s and is commonly thought to cause the neurodegenerative disease.

While the findings are preliminary, researchers are optimistic about their findings. David Schubert, a professor at the Salk Institute and senior author on the study says, “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”

In the study, researchers found that by exposing beta-amyloid proteins to THC, it reduced the levels of beta-amyloid, stopped the inflammatory response from the nerve cells caused by beta-amyloid and allowed the nerve cells to survive. 

All in all, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, what there is, however, is products and treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of the diseases.

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