Abbreviated as SDAT, and better known as Alzheimer's Disease, this is the most common cause of intellectual decline with aging, affecting approximately 9 in every 10,000 people. Like Cancer, Alzheimer's only became widely known in this century, when more people started living long enough to get it.

SDAT is characterized by impaired memory, with a progressive loss of other brain functions. The first memories to go are the most recent ones; Alzheimer's patients have been known to not recognize their own family members because they only remember they way they were 20 or 30 years ago. As memory deteriorates, there are changes in mood, language capacity, and gait. The amount of grey matter in the brain begins to decrease, as brain tissue atrophies, and ventricles within the brain become enlarged.

Other symptoms include:

  1. apraxia
  2. difficulty with any previously learned skilled movement, such as opening a pill bottle.
  3. anomia
  4. trouble finding the right words in conversation
  5. wandering attention
  6. disorientation
  7. withdrawl
  8. inappropriate behavior

Discover Magazine once printed a chart that has stayed with me, in which they showed how brain functions in SDAT sufferers degrade in roughly the reverse order they develop in children (that is, the last to develop is the first to go).

The cause of SDAT is still unknown, but it has been linked to quite a few factors:

  1. Lack of neurotransmitters to perform brain function.
  2. Exposure to aluminum, manganese, and other light metals.
  3. Prion infections that can affect the brain and spinal cord
  4. An occasional inherited predisposition to SDAT, but not one that follows Mendelian patterns.
There is a gene that produces a substance called apolipoprotein E4 that is common in sufferers of SDAT, but it seems to merely increase the chance that the disease may occur, for reasons as yet unknown.

SDAT is usually tentatively diagnosed by the health care provider for the patient, after ruling out other types of dementia, such as that due to metabolic causes. The patient is subjected to a neuromuscular examination, to determine if the patient is able to follow movements, or reproduce complex movements. An X-Ray, CAT scan, or MRI of the head may also reveal shrinking in the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer's. The drugs Tacrine and Cognex may be used to slow the progression of the disease, and by suspending use of non-critical medication known to cause confusion, one may slow the effects of the disease. Other disorders that contribute to confusion may also be treated. Medications may be prescribed to control seizures and aggressive behavior brought on by the progressoin of the disease. Psychotherapy rarely works for SDAT sufferers.

Eventually, the victim of SDAT may break down completely, and require 24-hour care in order to function. Death eventually occurs about 15 years after the onset of Alzheimer's, usually because of infection or failure of other systems. If you find yourself contracting Alzheimer's (most patients are aware of their deteriorating functionality, at first), you may want to give serious consideration to writing up a living will.

Thanks to health.yahoo.com for most of the information above.

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