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Understanding the Alzheimer’s process

First of two parts; Part 2 will appear July 19.

Alzheimer’s is a nefarious disease. For people who have had a loved one afflicted with the disease or any other memory impediment, asking what can be done to make things better does not yield a clear-cut answer.

Often, by the time overt signs of impediment are noticed, modifying the severity may already be challenging. However, what if we could mitigate the potential for the occurrence?



ALZHEIMER’S STAGES

Alzheimer’s is a disease that often develops long before any symptoms are noticed. Fortunately, advancements in new imaging technologies and research in understanding how the communication networks of the brain work, medical professional now have greater insight about the biomarkers and proteins that indicate an increased risk of development.



Frequently, medical professionals describe Alzheimer’s in different stages: mild, moderate and severe. While each person may experience the symptoms differently, in general, people within the mild stage of Alzheimer’s may experience difficulty with misplacing and losing items, remembering names/people, and executive functions such as impulse control, planning, reasoning, and problem solving and completing tasks.

Moderate stage Alzheimer’s is often associated with clearer visual indicators such as challenges with coordination, decreased judgment, changes in personality and difficulty expressing thoughts. Often, this is when people become more confused and feel more uncomfortable in changing environments. Consistency, calm and familiar settings are key.

Severe stage Alzheimer’s is often associated with a loss of ability to coherently communicate, agitation, a greater impact on physical capabilities and personality changes. It is often within this stage that people lose their ability to respond to their environment, have difficulty chewing/swallowing and become more susceptible to illness.

Recent Alzheimer’s research is providing insight that may be quite beneficial to those interested in the possibility of abating Alzheimer’s. Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have made some recent breakthroughs in understanding correlations between Alzheimer’s disease and how the brain’s natural defense mechanisms may be inadvertently destroying connections between nerve cells with the excess development of free radicals, amyloid plaques, and ultimately, neurofibroid tangles.

As we age, there are numerous types of unwanted proteins that build up and accumulate between our cells. Collectively these are known as forms of amyloid.

These buildups are chemically “sticky” and gradually clump together to develop into plaques. As the plaques clump together, they may trigger inflammation and ultimately form neurofibroid tangles. These tangles are a primary marker of Alzheimer’s disease as they impede neuro communication and wind up killing parts of the brain.

To simplify a rather complex process, amyloid plaques and free radicals develop in response to the brain protecting itself from invading microbes/infections. Amyloids encapsulate the infecting microbes, which leads to a process whereby free radicals and, ultimately, neurofibroid tangles develop.

Normally, amyloid and free radicals play an important part in the brain as they fight off disease. However, too many of each can lead to an imbalance whereby an excessive amounts cause damage. Unfortunately, the brain is not extremely efficient in ridding itself of excess free radicals.

BALANCING FREE RADICALS

Free radicals and antioxidants have a yin and yang relationship. Free radicals are like robbers and thieves while antioxidants are like the authorities that bring justice.

Free radicals are atoms that have been stripped of an electron. Because atoms are stable when they consist of paired electrons, leaving the atom unpaired creates instability. When this happens, free radicals are formed.

As these free radicals multiply and form, they strip other atoms of their paired electron. This chain of electron stripping causes cellular death and is called oxidation.

To prevent free radical damage, the body has a defense system of antioxidants. One of the body’s tools for attacking invading microbes and balancing free radicals within the brain is the development of antioxidants. One of the most prevalent antioxidants in the brain is called glutathione. Antioxidants such as glutathione are integral in providing protection from oxidative stress which has been associated with myriad disease processes, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

PREVENTATIVE MEASURES

While no drug has been shown to be completely effective in the protection from Alzheimer’s, there is research indicating that antioxidant supplements may play a preventive role.

In two weeks, I will provide information about preventive and disease-modifying treatment strategies. There is research indicating that supplements such turmeric, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and N-acetylcysteine (glutathione) may help slow the disease’s progression or delay the onset.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield/Pitkin County. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526


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