Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, a mental disorder that includes loss of memory and other cognitive abilities. Of those diagnosed with dementia, 60 to 80 percent of them have Alzheimer's. The disease, which progresses over time, is more prevalent in people who are 65 or older. Causes of the disorder are not entirely known and common treatments only offset some of the symptoms, rather than offer a cure. New treatments, however, offer hope.
While the exact causes of Alzheimer's aren't completely understood, medical professionals believe that for most of those diagnosed, the disease is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors that affect the brain over time. Research indicates that abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain disrupts how cells function, according to the Mayo Clinic. Amyloid proteins form plaque around brain cells and tau proteins form "tangles" in cells. It is unclear what triggers these responses, but they eventually cause a decrease in neurotransmitter activity in the brain. The protein build-up damages, and sometimes kills, neurons. This damage reduces the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is necessary for nerve cells to communicate with each another. As time goes by, parts of the brain responsible for forming memories shrink.
The most frequent symptom of Alzheimer's is the loss of memory. Early warning signs include difficulty remembering recent events and learning new information. As the disease advances, memory deterioration worsens and other symptoms appear. For example, patients will often repeat themselves, misplace items, and get lost in familiar places. Eventually, those with the disorder forget the names of loved ones and cannot identify everyday objects. Advanced symptoms include difficulty eating, loss of speech, and violence in some cases.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but treatment includes medications that help reduce the cognitive decline associated with the disease. The National Institute on Aging reports that cholinesterase inhibitors, such as Razadyne and Exelon, help patients with mild to moderate symptoms. These medications inhibit how the brain breaks down acetylcholine. Razadyne costs around $170, with a generic form of the drug costing about $60. Exelon costs around $460, with a generic version costing considerably less at about $140. For patients with severe Alzheimer's, Namenda is a popular medication that blocks some of the harmful effects of Alzheimer's. This drug is available for around $260, with its generic version costing around $15. All of these drugs decrease symptoms of the disease, allowing patients to carry out some of their daily functions, but none offer a cure.
It is worth noting that there are several medications and treatments on the horizon for treating Alzheimer's that offer hope for patients and families who affected by the disease. The Alzheimer's Association reports that Aducanumab is an antibody being tested for its ability to slow the brain damage caused by the disorder. Sargramostim is a drug that fights inflammation associated with the disease. Vaccines and certain enzymes are also being tested in hopes to finding a cure for this aggressive disease. This is good news for an aging society that faces the monster of Alzheimer's disease.