Few diseases are more terrifying than Alzheimer’s, and few have such a devastating effect on families. Across the U.S., more than 5.5 million suffer from this condition. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that can rob its victims of not only their memories, but knowledge of how to perform basic day-to-day functions such as using the bathroom or getting dressed.
About 1 in 8 adults over 65 suffer from it, with women slightly more likely to be afflicted than men. And it doesn’t just affect older people either. More than 200,000 people under the age of 65 suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s.
While Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as “Old Timer’s Disease”, it’s not a normal part of aging. Instead, the disease breaks down brain tissue over time. As it progresses, protein deposits called beta-amyloid plaques build up in the brain. Another effect is that nerve cells get tangles, called neurofibrillary tangles. If you can imagine normal nerve functioning as a straight string, Alzheimer’s causes that string to tie itself in knots.
Scientists still aren’t completely sure what causes it, or why it affects some and not others. Despite years of research, there is no known cure. It’s usually a progressive disease, rather than an acute one. Many who suffer from Alzheimer’s have lived with it for years, or even decades. Some risk factors include high cholesterol and high blood pressure, though genetics plays an extremely important part as well.
If someone you know is suffering from Alzheimer’s, there are resources available that might help. The federal government has an information portal with all sorts of links. And if you’re looking for care solutions, the National Association of Aging has some great resources as well.