Alzheimer’s Disease – A Loss of Brain Cells | Winding Cross Urgent Care

LWMNovDec2014small_Page_20As an aging adult myself, I frequently think about whether Alzheimer’s is lurking somewhere inside my brain.

Alzheimer’s is a disease of brain that affects memory and cognition. As the disease progresses, it can also affect movement.

The pathophysiological process that leads to Alzheimer’s starts many years before the symptoms appear.

Researchers have proposed that it is most likely a mixture of genetic, environmental and life style causes that lead to Alzheimer’s. One theory postulates that Amyloid Beta Proteins normally found outside of the brain cell become abnormally folded and start adhering to each other, thus forming plaques. Accumulation of the plaques causes death of neurons and brain atrophy. Another theory is that a protein found inside the brain cell called Tau is not excreted and accumulates inside the cell, forming neurofibrillary tangles and leading to brain cell death.

Regardless of what initiates the disease, the result is the same: loss of brain cells.

How can we diagnose Alzheimer’s disease?

There is no definite test other than autopsy that will prove that a person had Alzheimer’s.

However, there are tests and clinical tools that together can diagnose Alzheimer’s fairly accurately. These include various memory and cognitive tests, a general health assessment, and
MRI or PET scan.

There are currently multiple tests that have been developed by researchers, including blood tests and a lumbar spine fluid analysis, that look promising. However, these tests are not yet
available for general use.

There is a smell test that has been developed by University of Pennsylvania that is non-invasive and simple to use. In the Harvard University study of 212 participants there was a linear correlation between poor performance on the smell test and loss of volume of the regions of the brain on MRI and high amyloid burden on PET imaging.

The smell test could have the potential of identifying early pre-clinical Alzheimer’s.

What is the treatment for Alzheimer’s? First of all, there is no cure. There are some medications that can slow the process.

Ideally, we should stay ahead of the game. We can train our brains to learn new tasks, learn new languages, stay active physically, sleep well and eat well.

By Roshelle Beckwith MD, FAAEM, FACEP
Winding Cross Urgent Care of Leesburg

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