Women’s Health: Alzheimer’s Disease

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- It’s estimated 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. Nearly two-thirds, or 3.6 million, of those with the disease, are women.

Over time, this progressive disease strips away memory and cognitive function leaving a person unable to take care of themselves. There is no cure, but scientists and researchers are discovering new ways of testing for and treating Alzheimer’s Disease, explains Dr. David Hart, a neurologist at the Alzheimer’s Center of Albany Med.

Alzheimer’s risk factors

  • Age: the risk doubles every five years after the age of 65.
  • Family history: people with a brother, sister, or parent with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Genetics.
  • Other risk factors: cardiovascular disease and head injury.

For the past two decades, the focus has been on the protein amyloid but there is also research on another protein associated with Alzheimer’s Disease called tau, said Dr. Hart. Amyloid is found at abnormal levels in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, according to the National Institute on Aging. The amyloid clumps together, collecting between neurons and interrupting cell function.

Tau differs from the amyloid protein because it supports the work of microtubules. Microtubules help usher nutrients in healthy neurons. Tau assists the microtubules by stabilizing them. Alzheimer’s Disease causes the tau to stick to themselves, creating threads that cause “tangles” in the neuron disrupting synapses.

Alzheimer’s Disease, similarly to breast cancer, can be linked to a woman’s reproductive history. Women who spent more months pregnant, were less likely to develop the disease, according to research presented at the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

  • Discuss overall health, use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality with the patient and a family member or friend.
  • Conducting memory, problem-solving, attention, counting, and language tests.
  • Ordering standard medical tests like blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem.
  • Performing brain scans, like computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET), to rule out other possible causes for symptoms.

*Source: National Institute on Aging

Dr. Hart discusses the future of blood tests to detect Alzheimer’s

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Mild: greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties including wandering/getting lost, trouble managing money/paying bills, repeating questions. Patients are often diagnosed during this stage.
  • Moderate: damage happens in areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought. Memory loss and confusion continue to worsen. Patients may begin to have problems recognizing family/friends, be unable to learn new things, carry out multistep tasks such as getting dressed and deal with new situations. Patients may also begin to have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, and act impulsively.
  • Severe: brain tissue shrinks significantly due to plaques and tangles spreading in the brain. Patients lose the ability to communicate and need constant care. Towards the end of life, patients are usually confined to bed as their organs begin to shut down.

Dr. Hart talked about two different clinical trials in his interview with Christina Arangio, one that targets amyloid and one that targets tau. He said there is a new drug on the horizon, awaiting approval from the Federal Drug Administration. He also said he thinks eventually researchers will discover a cue to Alzheimer’s.

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