Today, these two conditions are the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, although not readily diagnosable without tests that would harm a living patient.
Doctors and researchers are further stymied by the fact that conventional tools such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can only detect structural changes in the brain. They are not yet powerful enough to reveal the minuscule changes in brain cells where the damage originates.
The mental confusion of Alzheimer's disease
is caused by microscopic buildup of plaque
which damages brain tissue and nerve cells.
Today, physicians still usually engage in early detective work through simple observations of the patient's behavior.
Further clouding the issue, however, presents itself in classic Alzheimer's symptoms -- including forgetfulness and mental confusion -- that are often also found in other disease conditions such as heart disease and circulatory problems, thyroid disease, depression, or alcoholism.
Therefore, a complete physical workup and related tests to eliminate other causes are usually required before an exact diagnosis is made.
Working toward a cure
While a cure for the disease has yet to be found, advances in MRI screenings for Alzheimer's, and research into a genetic component are resulting in exciting discoveries that may shed
some light on why and what goes wrong.
In 2012, researchers at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute detected a genetic mutation that revealed early-onset in brain scans differing from those without the mutation. The tell-tale sign? An elevated level of the protein beta-amyloid in fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Meanwhile, Alzheimer's biomarkers (much like monitoring cholesterol in the blood of heart disease patients)
are picking up the signs of the disease earlier, and Alzheimer's treatments are being
developed that may one day end the brain damage done by this little
Alzheimer's drugs have also been developed to manage symptoms until a cure can be found.
Around the Web, find help through online support, facts & information,
and the progress shown in recent studies holding out new hope
for battling Alzheimer's disease.
More about Alzheimer's disease around the Web:
Alzheimer Association - This site is for patients,
caregivers and families. Resources include registration for
the 'Safe Return' program, links in many languages and an
online information and support community with a 24 hour hotline.
Ribbon - Caregivers can find themselves feeling lost
and hopeless when dealing with the emotional effects of Alzheimer's.
The Ribbon is a space where sharing is made easy through a
chat room and forum. Real support and information in a well
designed format make this newsletter/online support site a
Alzheimer Research Forum - This site is geared to
researchers so if you're not familiar with chemokine receptors
and prions, it may not be for you. It does present the latest
thinking about the causes and treatments of this disease.
information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made in consultation with