My name is Alzheimer’s. I live in Jane’s brain. She has been dealing with me for a few years now; I’ve slowly been growing stronger and stronger as the years have passed. But I’ve finally made my presence known, and Jane’s life is about to change forever.
My technical name is Alzheimer’s Disease. I am a sort of sub-category of an even greater brain disease called ‘dementia’. I was named after the famous Alois Alzheimer, a German psychologist. Alois worked alongside fellow psychiatrist Emil Kraeplin back in 1906 to identify different cases of dementia. Eventually with the publishing of his book, Kraeplin officially deemed a type of dementia to be called “Alzheimer’s disease”.
I do not want to brag or anything, but I am the most common form of dementia. Speaking in scientific terms, dementia is considered a “general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life”, (Alzheimer’s Association 2017) and I promise you that is extremely true. As I said before, dementia is not one specific mental disease; it refers to an overall term that describes a bunch of different symptoms, the best being me!
What do I do you ask? I affect memory and behavior. I am a progressive disease, meaning I significantly get more powerful as the body ages; but please do not mistake me for a disease of old age. Now stick with me here, this is where my power over the brain gets a little confusing. In a body that I have infected, the acetylcholine-releasing neurons within the brain undergo a process called selective degenerating. Acetylcholine is the most widely spread neurotransmitter within both the central and peripheral nervous systems. It is responsible for the stimulation of muscle contractions and behavior. It is also required specifically for memory and cognitive function, including motor control. With that being said, I cause the neurons that release acetylcholine to deteriorate preventing the body from obtaining it.
In a brain that I have inhabited, these so called “scientists” have been able detect the main/prominent abnormalities I cause. Because of me, Jane’s brain has two abnormalities: plaques and tangles. Plaques are clumps of beta-amyloid which are protein fragments that cause the destruction of the synapses of neurons and lead to nerve cell death. Tangles are basically knots of brain cells that also interfere with the brain tissues ability to transmit nervous messages. I was able to live within her brain undetected for a while, at least up until she started showing very noticeable symptoms; I guess I am just that powerful. I have the power to cause brain cells to lose ability to make connections that transmit information in regards to memory, learning and communication. (Alzheimer’s Association 2017) I also significantly hinder the body’s ability to undergo glutamatergic neurotransmission. Glutamate is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter within the brain that is responsible for sending signals between nerve cells, and plays an important roll in learning and memory. (Campos-Pea, et al.,2014)
These symptoms are mild in my early stages, for example mild memory loss. But again, as time passes, I become stronger and symptoms worsen. Jane is 74 years old, and has finally reached a moderate stage. She has had some memory loss, poor judgment in certain situations, and what I think is the funniest part, continuously loses things which her husband always finds in the strangest places. I don’t normally infect-and-tell, but typically in the past when I’ve become even stronger, people I have infected become extremely forgetful of their surroundings and lose the ability to carry a normal conversation.
While Jane’s exercise and dieting history are definitely qualities that I look for in a body, there are actually three main reasons why I might inhabit a body. Although I am not a disease of old age, those who are older in age are at greater risk for developing me. I don’t want to start any trouble, but you can even blame your family history. The risk of developing me is even greater if family members, especially more than one, has it. This is because heredity and environmental factors play a considerable role in whether I decide to show up. There are two different types of genes that determine whether I can inhabit a body: risk genes and deterministic genes. Risk genes increase the chances of developing any type of disease, but don’t actually guarantee that it will happen. The deterministic genes are what gets you. These types of genes guarantee that any person who inherits them will develop some sort of disorder. But those that determine whether or not I’m coming are rare, and typically cause symptoms to show in a person in their early 40’s to mid-50s.
As I said before, those “scientists” can be a real pain in my “Alz”. They’ve actually found ways to find me through new technological advances, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale. This scale quantifies the severity of those with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, including cognitive and noncognitive behavioral dysfunctions, can you believe that? From what I’ve heard, these scale ratings have determined that those that I have infected had more prevalent cognitive and noncognitive dysfunction that those without me. (Rosen Ph.D, Wilma G., et al. 2006) If you thought that was bad, there is a similar scale that has been used in the past called the Clinical Dementia Rating (CRD). Apparently, the CRD is a numerical scale that measures the severity of the symptoms of dementia, with the ability to read people that range from healthy to severely impaired. (Hughes, C. P. et al. 1982)
Unfortunately, I cannot be passed along through direct contact which would totally make my life easier. (Kwon 2015) However I can tell you that maternal and or paternal transmission is extremely possible according to certain studies. What most people don’t know is that because women typically have longer lifespans than men, we can assume that the amount of women with dementia is way higher than in men; I guess you can call me a ladies’ man (or disease rather), am I right? (Lindsay, J & Anderson, L. 2004) According to the “scientists”, there have been genetic epidemiological studies that observe whether or not my spread through maternal or paternal transmission is more likely. Oddly enough, while no evidence actually suggests that I can be passed through maternal inheritance, and I swear I was not making all that up before, there is significant evidence indicating increased paternal transmission. (Ehrenkrants et al. 1999)
Doctor’s may think that they have me beat, but I am so much bigger than what they can handle. There is NO way to cure me. Again, I am a progressive disease and continue to get worse as time goes on. They are trying to destroy me though; they have been giving Jane these treatments that slow down my progression. Apparently, this “FDA” organization has approved two different types of medications which include cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine which are used to treat memory loss, confusion, and other cognitive dysfunctions. Jane has been given the Cholinesterase inhibitor which used against my early to moderate stages. It prevents the deterioration of acetylcholine which again is important for learning and memory. Just when I thought we were moving forward, the doctor’s go ahead and slow down all my progress! This medication increases the levels of acetylcholine, which is actually the exact opposite pf what I have been trying to do. The other medication, which Jane will eventually have to take, Memantine, is used against moderate to severe stages and regulates glutamate activity which is important for information processing and storage. It will eventually help to improve Jill’s ability to function normally and participate in average daily activities. It’s like I can never win.
I will not lie to you; I am very confident in my future. Even with all the bodies that I have inhabited, doctors still have not been able to catch on. They can tell their patients all they want to do all of these “preventative” things in hopes that they will not develop me. People think that taking anti-aging pills, ‘training’ your brain with brain games, and even drinking red wine are the keys to prevention. But justice always prevails, and so will I. According so my sources, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (2010) was established as a goal to find a cure from Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2025. But let’s be real here. I am just way too high maintenance for researchers to even afford. They will need about $2 billion dollars annually just to meet this goal, which is highly unlikely. Although some may say that even without proper funding the path to finding highly effective treatments is picking up the pace, I don’t buy it.
Because Jane has been given medication that will slow down the progress I have made, she has been able to improve her ability to function normally and participate in average daily activities. But we know that Jane has a poor exercise and health regime, so she probably will not live for much longer. Jane is now 78 years, old and has reached a more severe stage; the majority of her cognitive function has gone. Her brain will continue to deteriorate, and she will eventually reach an extreme advanced stage where she will have little to no cognitive function and will be unable to function on her own.
Jane is far beyond these preventative stages. At this point there is nothing she can do. I am sure she will continue to confide in her doctors, but pretty soon her mind will have completely gone. I am confident that I will not be stopped.
I am ultimately, undefeatable.