Questions: Alzheimer’s Disease

Image by Will Eucker

Image by Will Eucker

Though current research, public understanding and new technologies surrounding Alzheimer’s Disease (such as the dominantly inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) or early diagnostic genetic testing) offer an optimistic future for potential cures and effective treatments, the current prevalence of Alzheimer’s and preclinical Alzheimer’s continues to situate itself around 30 percent for the older adult population. Popular culture takes advantage of the image of a declining mind in films and novels such as Still Alice, which documents the firsthand account of an esteemed linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s. Like others struggling with the disease, she considers ending her life when she’s forgotten too much of herself. But how do people makes these decisions? What constitutes a quality life and one worth living?

In a capitalist driven economy, sometimes the value of life is quantified by wealth or socially-mandated hallmarks of success such as Forbes magazine covers that label people like Bill Gates as worth 79 billion dollars. However, the monetary and resume ridden checklist to a successful life only partially illuminates the core principles of an individual – the principles that make them unique and individual. However, for a person living with Alzheimer’s, loss of certain aspects of life that are often taken for granted, such as walking or recognizing friends, can make living with the disease very difficult.

Even though researchers have medicalized Alzheimer’s by creating a proposed pathology that relates the accumulation of plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain to neuronal damage, an ultimate cure still does not exist, likely because Alzheimer’s is a long process. An asymptomatic stage that precedes the diagnosis for clinical AD for up to twenty years before is defined as preclinical AD. During the preclinical stage many patients will be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI); however, not everyone with MCI will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In this instance, someone with MCI may or may not know their final prognosis.

Currently, the Alzheimer Association has charted common symptoms that often result from an AD diagnosis. They note that patients may feel anger, relief, denial, depression, resentment, fear and sense of loss. However, these changes in the brain, depending on the rate of neuronal degeneration, precede the diagnosis of clinical Alzheimer’s months in advance. Meanwhile, these people exhibit no visible impairment to those around them.

In light of this fact, though age-related decline in cognition is common and prevalent in society, why does the moment of diagnoses affect some patient’s perceived views?

 


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