What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disorder that attacks the brain cells causing gradual decline in cognition, memory, thinking and language skills and ultimately deprives individuals of independent living. The main cause of Alzheimer’s is the unusual buildup of two abnormal proteins known as plaque and tangles in the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking.
Plaque is a sticky protein fragment called beta-amyloid which begins to form in the space between brain cells causing the loss of connections between neurons resulting in nutrient depravation and cell starvation. These amyloids are protein fragments snipped from amyloid precursor protein found in the fatty membrane surrounding the nerve cells. In a healthy brain, these fragments are broken down and eliminated. In Alzheimer’s disease, the fragments accumulate, forming hard, insoluble plaque.
Tangles are formed when a protein called Tau twists into toxic tangles called Tau Oligomer. Brain cells depend on Tau to maintain the internal transport system to carry nutrients and other essential materials throughout the neuron network. In the case of Alzheimer’s, Tau protein breaks down causing failure of the transport system and ultimate demise of brain cells.
Today, Alzheimer’s disease affects as many as 5.4 million Americans. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Between 2000 to 2015, while death from other diseases decreased, death from Alzheimer’s increased 70 percent. Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
As the aging “baby boomer” generation moves through retirement, by 2030 approximately 72 million “boomers” will reach an age of greater risk.
The economic toll on the health care system is also staggering. In 2016 an estimated $236 billion will be spent to care for people with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050 the number of people suffering with Alzheimer’s could soar to 16 million with an estimated projected cost of care reaching $1.10 trillion per year.
One in every three seniors will develop and die from Alzheimer’s or Dementia with a new diagnosis every 66 seconds. Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women and the duration of illness can last anywhere from 3 to 8 years. Statistics support a woman’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s are now greater than her chance of developing breast cancer.
(Statistics obtained from Alzheimer’s Association.
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