Alzheimer's Disease: An Overview Disease Description and Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Alzheimer's Disease: An Overview

Disease description and possible misconceptions

Alzheimer's disease is one of, although not the only type, of dementia elderly patients may suffer. The most common form of the illness occurs after age 60. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease before the age of 60 is less common, but the symptoms and worsening of the illness tends to be swifter in nature. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease has a known genetic component. "Certain genes...such as APOE epsilon4 allele" are linked to a greater likelihood of developing Alzheimer's (Jasmin 2010). In older patients, the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's can be difficult to determine. "The only way to know for certain that someone has AD is to examine a sample of their brain tissue after death," to determine if the tissue sample exhibits neurofibrillary tangles, "twisted fragments of protein within nerve cells that clog up the cell;" neuritic plaques, "abnormal clusters of dead and dying nerve cells, other brain cells, and protein;" and senile plaques, "areas where products of dying nerve cells have accumulated around protein" (Jasmin 2010). "Brain lesions in both early and late-onset AD are the same, and in the same distribution pattern, as those seen in individuals with Down's syndrome (DS) and in smaller numbers in normal older individuals" (Harman 2000: 147).

One common misconception about Alzheimer's is that all forms of forgetfulness linked to age are an early manifestation of the disorder. Some forgetfulness is normal at any age. Dietary deficiencies, strokes, brain tumors, and over-medication can produce some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's and must be ruled out before a formal diagnosis is made (Jasmin 2010). However, with persons suffering from Alzheimer's, the forgetfulness is consistent and has no other discernible cause. Eventually, the person will forget how to do routine tasks and identify the names and faces even of close family members. During the later stages of the illness, the person exists in a state of total disability and is unable to care for him or herself (Gwyther 2004: 7).

Another common misconception is that it is a disease that only affects the elderly and is a natural part of aging. Although the illness may be more common in patients over the age of 60 (an estimated 90-95% of all patients are late-onset) studying patients with high genetic risk factors who develop Alzheimer's earlier in life has provided a fruitful source of research into the origins and progression of the illness (Harman 2000: 147). Because early-onset patients are known to be deficient in amyloid precursor protein (APP), presenilin 1 (PS1), and presenilin 2 (PS2), it is easier to predict and diagnose the development of this illness, while late-onset cases, although there is also a genetic component, are "more sporadic" in nature (Harman 2000: 147). And not all elderly persons develop dementia -- Alzheimer's is a clear pathology, an abnormal form of brain deterioration.


Symptoms of Alzheimer's early stages include "difficulty performing more than one task at a time; difficulty solving problems; forgetting recent events or conversations;" and "taking longer to perform more difficult activities (Jasmin 2010). These symptoms may be present long before the disease is officially diagnosed. Patients find it difficult to learn new routines, take directions, balance a checkbook, cook, or play games that once came easily to them. They may experience depression and forget the names of friends and objects that were once familiar.

Symptoms of moderate Alzheimer's include wakefulness during the night; difficulty in preparing simple meals and engaging in basic self-care; problems with reading and writing; and depression and anxiety. Patients are often socially withdrawn and may seem hostile or confused. During the later stages, patients lose the ability to speak, recognize family members, chew and swallow independently, or go…

Sources Used in Document:


Gwyther, L.P. (2004). Ask the expert: Common questions about Alzheimer's disease.

National Women's Health Report, 26(6), 7-7. Retrieved:

Harman, D. (2000). Alzheimer's disease: A hypothesis on pathogenesis. Age, 23(3), 147-161.

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