Understanding Alzheimer’s

The word Alzheimer’s is scary and can even be confusing for many. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to share information about the disease and help raise understanding.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses and eventually leads to death. It was first described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 and was named after him. Most often Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age,[1] although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In 2006 there were 26.6 million sufferers worldwide, and is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.[2]

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information.

Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information. This is because Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Although there is no current cure, scientists believe the buildup of plaque in the brain could be a prime suspect in damaging and killing nerve cells. These deposits of a protein fragment are believed to play a role in blocking communication among nerve cells which leads to the eventual death of the cell.

Radiology Ltd. was instrumental in a research study with Cardinal Health to explore early detection of Alzheimer’s disease with a new molecular imaging agent called Amyvid. This agent, along with Radiology Ltd.’s PET/CT (Positron Emissions Tomography) exam, is able to assist in providing early detection of plaque build-up in the hopes that earlier intervention will lead to cures through further research.

With the approval of Amyvid by the FDA in April 2012 for the evaluation of Alzheimer’s disease, Radiology Ltd. is able to provide this imaging for our patients. Such steps in the research of this disease are integral to the path of curing it.

1^ Brookmeyer R., Gray S., Kawas C.. Projections of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and the public health impact of delaying disease onset. American Journal of Public Health. 1998;88(9):1337–42.doi:10.2105/AJPH.88.9.1337. PMID 9736873.
2 ^ a b 2006 prevalence estimate:
Brookmeyer R, Johnson E, Ziegler-Graham K, MH Arrighi. Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 2007 [cited 2008-06-18];3(3):186–91. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2007.04.381.PMID 19595937.
World population prospects: the 2006 revision, highlights [PDF]. 2007 [cited 2008-08-27].