Women and Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease, popularly known as AD, is an irremediable, progressive ailment of the brain that destroys brain cells responsible for executing brain roles such as memory and thinking. Alzheimer disease destroys some brain faculties making the person unable to perform even the simplest tasks. To begin with, the disease affects regions of the brain, which manage language, memory and thought.
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Thus, women suffering from Alzheimer disease find it hard to memorize things that have occurred lately and in most cases, they cannot even remember the names of people conversant to them. As time goes by, the symptoms become ubiquitous and worse. The disease also affects men but not vicious as compared to women.
For instance, women like men suffering from Alzheimer disease cannot recognize family members, experience some speaking difficulties and they loose their ability to read and write. Additionally, they forget to do even simple things like combing hair and brushing their teeth.
With time, they become very nervous and belligerent, wandering far away from home never to return back as they cannot remember the way back home.
The symptoms of Alzheimer disease become prevalent the age of 60. This means that as one gets older, the risks becomes high. Notably, research shows that the disease leads to dementia- a disease common among older people- men and women. Dementia is a brain disease characterized by the loss of cognitive functioning.
For instance, persons suffering from dementia have remembering, thinking and reasoning intricacies, which end up affecting their daily activities. So far, statistics reveal that there are over 5.1 million people suffering from Alzheimer disease in United States alone and the disease affects more women than men (U.S National Institute of Health, 2010, p.1).
Brain Changes with Alzheimer’s disease
So far, medics are yet to identify the real cause of Alzheimer disease. Additionally, medics are busy doing research to identify how the process starts and whether brain damage occurs 10 to 20 years prior to the appearance of first symptoms. The brain changes are the same in both men and women suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Nevertheless, some medical practitioners believe that it all starts with the development of tangles in the brain especially in the entorhinal cortex and affects more women than men. Other regions of the brain may also develop plaques. Further development of the plaques and tangles within the brain regions hampers the normal functioning of the healthy neurons. Eventually, the neurons become less efficient and cannot communicate effectively with each other; consequently, they die leaving the person in big problems.
The tangles and the plaques continue to damage the entorhinal cortex and eventually spread into a nearby region, hippocampus. The hippocampus is the region of the brain responsible for memory. There is also a significant increase in the death of the neurons leading to the shrinking of the affected regions.
Signs and Symptoms
The society has mixed perceptions on the signs and symptoms of the disease. In most cases, they associate them with disability. Alzheimer’s disease develops slowly making it hard for medics to establish the whole process.
Several neuropsychological testing reveals the dominance of mild cognitive intricacies eight years before the real diagnosis. Some of the common early symptoms include memory loss, which affects the person’s ability to remember or even get new information.
In the early stage, persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease experience memory loss, language difficulties, changed perceptions (agnosia), and difficulties in moving from one place to another, apraxia. At this stage, the disease does not impair all memory capacities. Even if it affects these memory capacities, the extent of damage is not uniform across all memories.
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For example, research shows that the episodic memory responsible for remembering past happenings, the semantic memory responsible for recognizing learned facts, and the implicit memory of how the body works has lesser damages as compared to other memory capacities. This problem is more prevalent in men than in women.
Additionally, both men and women experience language problems like hesitancy of words and dwindling vocabulary hence, the penury of spoken and written language. Nevertheless, the person can still perform fine motor tasks for example, walking, eating, writing, and drawing (Forstl, H. & Kurz, 1999, pp. 288-290).
The second stage of symptoms is the moderate. Here, the early signs and symptoms starts to deteriorate and eventually hinders the independence of a person. In most cases, this effect is dominant in men. On the other hand, women also experience speech difficulties and become prevalent-paraphasias.
With time, they loose the ability to read and write. The memory loss problem also worsens and the person cannot even recognize family members. This stage exhibits behavioral and neuropsychiatric changes such as tetchiness, labile effect, outbursts, itinerancy, sundowning and aggression.
In the advanced stage, the both men and women cannot perform any task individually. There is complete loss of speech characterized by single words and phrases. Nevertheless, although such persons cannot communicate effectively, they understand and can answer using emotional gestures.
At this stage, they experience acute apathy, aggressiveness and exhaustion and they cannot perform any task including the simple ones minus assistance. Other symptoms include the deterioration of mobility and muscle mass to a stage where they confine to bed, unable to feed themselves. The table below shows the number of incidences affected after the age of 65 (Frank, 1994, pp. 417-423).
|Age||Number of Men and Women Affected per One Thousand|
To date, scientist have not identified the real cause of Alzheimer’s disease, although it is clear that the disease starts with some complications and a chain of events occurring in the brain for a lengthy period of time. Genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors are some of the possible causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, scientists have put across several hypotheses, which tend to explain the cause of AD.
For example, the cholinergic hypothesis depicts the reduced synthesis of neurotransmitter acetylcholine as the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Nonetheless, many scientists do not agree with this hypothesis and always find faults in it. Another hypothesis, amyloid hypothesis, developed in 1991 explains that amyloid beta (Aβ) causes Alzheimer’s disease.
The hypothesis continues further to explain position of the gene in the amyloid beta precursor protein (APP) occurring in chromosome 21, a characteristic experienced by older persons. Since then, scientists have made numerous advances to the hypothesis explaining how amyloid plaques cause impairs the normal functioning of the neurons.
Another hypothesis, explains how the breakdown of myelin within the brain causes Alzheimer’s disease. Such breakdowns cause distractions in axonal transport hence, trouncing of neurons. The hypothesis also explains that the iron unconfined during the go kaput of myelin can cause brain damages (Polvikoski, Sulkava, Haltia, 1995, pp. 1242-1247).
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease
The definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is not an easy task. This is because it involves the assessment of the brain tissue and pathology examination in an autopsy. Nevertheless, due to the development of science and technology, medics are now in a position to determine whether persons suffering from memory problems have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
In order to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, medical practitioners have to perform the following. Firstly, they examine the medical history of the person affected, which includes the ability to carry out different tasks, earlier medical quandaries, and alterations in personality and behavior. Secondly, doctors will then proceed to perform memory tests such as attention and problem solving.
They will also test the person’s ability to count and communicate effectively (language). Thirdly, they will then carry out medical tests from samples of urine, blood and the spinal fluid. The last test involves brain scanning. Using computerized tomography (CT) or another technique called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); doctors can determine the extent of brain damage over time.
Perhaps this is the main reason why doctors prefer early diagnosis as they can be in a position to prescribe drugs, which control further development of the symptoms. Early diagnosis will also make many families prepare for the future in advance and develop support networks (Shiel & Marks, 2010, p. 1).
Society and AD
Depending on one’s background, the view on women with Alzheimer can vary greatly. Nevertheless, women are important people in society. Although many women are more likely to be affected, the mortality rate is higher in men than in women. In fact, severe dementia and delirium causes mortality in men. On the other hand, women suffering from dementia are having low insulin as compared to men meaning, the probability of women suffering from diabetes is higher than that of men.
Women and Alzheimer’s Disease
Research shows that women are at high risk of attack of Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, women contribute 66 percent of persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. United States government is going to spend over US$20 billion for over 78 million baby boomers, many of them suffering from this disease. Women suffer most because of their gender, not longevity.
Once women reach menopause, they experience estrogen deficiency. Medical research indicates that estrogen is imperative in protecting the mental functioning of the brain. It also controls the production of amyloid, which forms amyloid plaques dangerous to the brain.
Thus, as the level of estrogen plummet, the intrinsic fortification of women ceases; nonetheless, as for men, they change testosterone into estrogen even at old ages hence, ensuring them protection against the disease. In women, the brain’s vascular system is dependent on estrogen. Thus, once the production of estrogen stalls, there is no further preservation of the woman’s vascular system (Liesi, Scherr, McCann, Beckett, & Evans, 1999, pp. 132-136).
Various medical researches indicate that after menopause, the body of women fails to normalize its blood vessels just like in the past due to the absence of estrogen. This can cause further deterioration resulting from such abnormalities. However, with time, the body adapts to the new body condition and sets new modalities of maintaining the vascular system.
Blood vessels are like highways that ship oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. As women start their menopause period, certain vascular quandaries develop. Within vessels, some tiny vessels develop causing miscommunication. Doctors cannot use synthetic hormones to correct the situation as it can interfere with the normal functioning of the body.
Consequently, abnormal changes occur in the brain; nerves responsible for memory and capacity to learn damage, and brain cells die. This changes a person’s personality and behavior and in some occasions, the body can loose its ability to perform normal functions like walking, writing, and drawing (Lerner, 1999, pp. 1830-1834).
Treating the Psychiatric Symptoms
So far, there is no established cure for Alzheimer’s disease.Scientists have developed drugs that treat symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, in treating agitation, doctors recommend beta-blockers, anxiolytics, trazodone and antipsychotics. However, there is still pharmacological controversy on these drugs regarding their side effects such as stroke and sudden death.
For example, some drugs treat men effectively from depression but fails in women. Additionally, women suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, experiencing apathy, and concentrating problems should desist from using antidepressants as they may cause more harm.
Research shows that sedating atypical antidepressants, trazodone, is effective in controlling the dominant symptoms like agitation, hallucination and insomnia. Other modes of treatment include non-pharmacologic measures such as not taking fluids at night to reduce urination, pain treatment, exposure to sunlight and other activities that induce sleep.
It is true the disease affects both men and women. However, research shows that women constitute the highest percentage of those affected. Both men and women suffering from Alzheimer’s disease need maximum care, as they cannot perform normal activities due to brain damage.
Sometimes, families can have stress in caring for these patients, as they need total attention. Nevertheless, persons suspecting to have the disease should see the doctor for diagnosis and further treatment.
Forstl, H. & Kurz, A. (1999). Clinical features of Alzheimer’s disease. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 249(6), 288–290.
Frank, E. (1994). Effect of Alzheimer’s disease on communication function. Journal of Science and Medical Association, 90 (9), 417–423.
Lerner, A. (1999). Women and Alzheimer’s Disease. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 84(6), 1830-1834.
Liesi, E., Scherr, P., McCann, J., Beckett, L. & Evans, D. (1999). Is the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease Greater for Women than Men? American Journal of Epidemiology, 153(2), 132-136.
Polvikoski, T., Sulkava, R. & Haltia, M. (1995). Apolipoprotein E, dementia, and cortical deposition of beta-amyloid protein. New England Journal of Medicine, 333(19), 1242–1247.
Shiel, W. & Marks, J. (2010). Alzheimer’s Disease. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/alzheimers_disease_causes_stages_and_symptoms/article.htm
U.S National Institute of Health. (2010). Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet.