Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks the brain by causing it to cease producing brain cells, prompting it to slowly decay. This process continues until the patient eventually loses all mental functions, leading to death. Alzheimer’s makes up about 60-80% of all dementia cases. To understand Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to study the basics of Alzheimer's such as the history and stages of the disease as well as the causes of death as a result of the disease.
Alzheimer's disease was discovered in 1906 after a German doctor by the name of Alois Alzheimer found changes in a deceased woman's brain tissue. The woman, Auguste Deter, had reportedly died of an unusual mental illness with symptoms including memory loss, irrational behavior, and language difficulty. As Dr. Alzheimer examined her brain, he found what he described as “irregular clumps” and “bundles of tangled fibers”. These clumps and tangles are now known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary. After this discovery, Dr. Alzheimer presented his findings to the South-West German Society of Alienists. Five years later, 11 more cases of similar symptoms and autopsy results were discovered. Since then, extensive research has continued but has produced little information.
The type of Alzheimer’s that Mrs. Deter had was early-onset. Early-onset affects less than 5% of patients 40-50 years old. This form of Alzheimer’s can be very hard to diagnose due to the fact that every case is different. Many doctors struggle to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer's because some of the symptoms can be similar to those of stress. By the time a patient is diagnosed they could be at any stage of the disease. Doctors still do not know why some people develop Alzheimer’s at such a young age.
Alzheimer’s disease progresses in three stages: Early stage, Middle stage, and Late stage. In the early stage, the patient begins to experience mild memory loss such as not being able to remember certain words or new names, having trouble with organization, and misplacing items. In the middle stage, the symptoms of the first stage begin to worsen and symptoms like irrational behavior, confusion about where they are or what day it is, and wandering begin. Finally, in the last stage, memory begins to deteriorate to near nothing and the patient requires 24/7 assistance. The patient is now vulnerable to infection and will likely pass from it. If the patient is not taken by infection, the brain will continue to slowly decay until it loses the ability to continue mental function.
The leading cause of death in Alzheimer’s patients is an infection. The most common infection is Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). UTI happens when bacteria enters the urethra, moves through the urinary tract and into the bladder causing infection. UTI in Alzheimer’s patients can cause sudden changes in behavior, confusion, and even increase the progression of the disease. Another common infection is pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs and can be a result of influenza. For Alzheimer’s patients with pneumonia, antibiotics are not always an option reason being that many doctors believe that the negative side effects outweigh the positive, therefore, most patients die of this infection.
Although the government, as well as many associations, have put millions of dollars into the study of this disease, scientists remain baffled as to what causes it. To this end, some doctors and scientists believe that poor health may contribute to the cause. It has been surveyed that people who make poor health decisions such as eating low-quality foods and little exercise are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s. Another possible contributor to Alzheimer’s disease is an illness. Studies suggest that if a person has had multiple illnesses such as strep throat and influenza throughout their lives they may be more likely to get Alzheimer's.
As the research for the cure to Alzheimer’s disease continues, so does the number of victims. Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million people each year in the U.S. and scientists estimate that by 2050 that number will have nearly tripled to over 13 million. In the last decade, the death rate caused by Alzheimer’s disease has increased by 71% and it is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that 700,000 people will die from Alzheimer’s in this year alone. Studying the basics of Alzheimer's such as the history, stages, and the causes of death of Alzheimer’s disease can help in better understanding this disease and lead us closer to finding the cure.