Brain health is at the core of who we are as humans. If you have a healthy brain, you have an inquiring mind, you are engaged in the world around you, and you communicate clearly with others and form nurturing relationships.
Brain chemistry malfunctions take place when, for unknown reasons, brain cells begin to die, resulting in impaired memory,also known as dementia. It takes a disease in itself and is not a normal consequence of aging.
Alzheimer’s disease is probably the best known form of dementia, accounting for 50 to 70% of all cases of dementia, so the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia are often used interchangeable. Many people with Alzheimer’s show signs of dementia caused by strokes or mini-stokes called transient ischemic accidents (TIAs) as well.
Dementia can also be caused by chemical exposures, other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob (mad cow disease), long term depression, multiple strokes, AIDS, Chronic drug use, infections and toxic side effects of medications. It can also be caused by head injuries, as we’ve learned through recent media coverage of compromised brain function in professional football players and boxers who are exposed to relentless blows to the head. For the most part these, like Alzheimer’s, are in incurable and irreversible. Conventional medicine has little to offer in terms of treatment.
There are also forms of dementia that can be treated and potentially reversed, including those caused by a blood clot on the brain, a tumor that can be removed, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia and vitamin B12 deficiency.
It is very difficult to diagnose dementia or to differentiate the specific disease called Alzheimer’s, so if you or someone close to you is showing signs of memory loss, it is essential to make a thorough investigation to determine if the dementia is caused by one of the factors that can be treated and reversed.
THE LONG GOODBYE
Over time, Alzheimer’s inevitably affects memory, thinking and behavior. People with Alzheimer’s frequently experience personality changes, anxiety, anger and may even become combative and violent.
Alzheimer’s has often been called “The Long Goodbye”, because it takes such a terrible physical and emotional toll on its victims and their families, usually for years on end.
The downhill memory slide takes its victims from normal competency with occasional memory lapses to the loss of the ability to function in the normal world to inevitable death with no apparent mindfulness. Sadly, conventional medicine offers no really effective treatment. The few pharmaceuticals on the market have minimal effects even in slowing the progression of the disease, The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Most of them are over 60, although there is an increasing rate of early onset Alzheimer’s that can begin as early as the 30s. The frightening statistic is that if you’re lucky to live to the age of 85, you have a 50-50 chance of developing dementia. Alzheimer’s is inevitably a fatal disease, but it rarely kills quickly. Mercifully, people with dementia often have other disease that take them away before the terrible onset of late-stage dementia.
BIOLOGY OF ALZHEIMER’S
Here’s a little painless biology that explains how normal brain cells work. I like to think of neurons, dendrites and synapses as an electrical system in the brain through which thought processes and conscious and unconscious biological function takes place. Neurons, the brain cells, grow large finger-like projections called dendrites that function very much like wiring in an electrical system. Each neuron has at least one dendrite in and another out in this electrical grid that sends a charge to the next dendrite across a tiny space called a synapse. Scientist once thought that we were born with all of the neurons and dendrites we will ever possess, but they’ve recently learned that over our lifetimes we can grow new neurons and even expand our network of dendrites exponentially in a process called neurogenesis. Some neurons may have hundreds or even thousands of dendrites.
Continuing our analogy of the electrical wiring system, you can see that if one wire becomes damage, thousands of alternative “electrical” pathways can allow the system to continue to function without impairment.
How do you grow more dendrites and refresh your neurons supply? No one is really sure, but there is evidence that the more you challenge your brain, the more extensive your neuronal network will be. Another process characteristic of Alzheimer’s is the formation pf beta-amyloid palques and tangles. The beta-amyloid plaques are made of protein that accumulates around the neurons rather than being eliminated by the body, as they are in a healthy person thereby damaging the function of the brain.
In addition , tangled proteins called tau fiber inside the neuron further impair the mental process.
These plaques and tangles and disrupted neuronal function most often occur in the hippocampus, the lower part of the human brain that is responsible for memory. For the unknown reasons, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia frequently affect the area of hippocampus that controls short-term memory. That’s why Grandma may have no idea what she ate for breakfast, but she can recount in great detail the guest list and menu from a dinner party 30 years ago.
Alzheimer’s is usually staged in seven levels, the seventh stage being inevitably fatal when the neuronal network has failed to the extent that bodily functions that require little or no thought (like swallowing or coughing) become so impaired that their failure is life threatening. The average life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer’s 8 to 10 from the onset of symptoms, although it may take several years to obtain a diagnosis.
This was taken from a book by Jan McBarron, M.D.,N.D.