This month’s Q&A is about Alzheimer’s Disease or AD, the most common form of dementia. This disease affects millions of Americans and its causes remain largely unknown. A diagnosis can be scary both for the patient and their family. In today’s Q&A we discuss common questions with our very own Dr. Lujan.
Q: Some people use the tongue-in-cheek moniker “Old Timer’s Disease” to describe Alzheimer’s Disease. Is AD an inevitable part of aging?
A: While the primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease is age, AD is not a normal part of aging. We all become more forgetful as we age, but the symptoms of AD are more pronounced and debilitating. While there is no definitive diagnosis for AD, we can usually identify a case of Alzheimer’s with a high degree of certainty.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease that induces cell death and subsequent declines in processing and cognitive function. Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, is widespread amongst aging populations. Nearly one out of every three elderly deaths are the result of Alzheimer’s Disease, making AD the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Figures estimate that over 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s Disease, with this number projected to increase. Though the effects of Alzheimer’s are well documented, the exact cause of the disease is unknown. Recent findings, however, suggest that Alzheimer’s may be the result of microbial infections in the brain.
How is Alzheimer’s Formed?
Brain cells, known as neurons, relay information through specialized sites known as synapses. Synapses allow chemical structures, called neurotransmitters, to diffuse across neurons and relay communicative signals.
Traditional theories suggest that Alzheimer’s disease may be the result of blockage across chemical synapses. As individuals age, fragments of beta-amyloid proteins begin to clump together. These clumps combine to form chemically “sticky” plaques in the synapses between neurons. These plaques inhibit transmission and communication amongst neurons, leading to cognitive decline and cell death.
It has been said that we have a silent epidemic among our young athletes—Brain Injuries due to Concussion. Athletes age 14 and under account for 1/3 of Emergency Room evaluations for sports’ related head injuries. 60% of these Brain Injuries occurred in football & basketball. In the last 10 years, emergency room visits by children and adolescents with sports related concussions nearly doubled in organized team sports in the 8-13 age group and nearly tripled in the age 14-19 group. Symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, headache, slowed reaction times and memory problems are just some of the most common symptoms of a concussion. 90% of concussions occur without loss of consciousness. A player who has sustained one concussion is 3 to 6 times more likely to sustain a second concussion and studies have indicated that 14.7% of high school and college players suffer more than one concussion during the season.