From discovery towards understanding

In the early part of the twentieth century, Alois Alzheimer described his eponymous disorder in a middle-aged woman who suffered not only cognitive deterioration and functional decline but psychotic experiences, including delusions and auditory hallucinations. Neuropathology included gross atrophy and plaques and tangles on microscopy. Although all the important features of AD were described at this stage, two important developments came much later. First, in the 1960s with the studies of Roth and colleagues in Newcastle^.,) and others elsewhere, it was appreciated that much dementia in the elderly has an identical neuropathological appearance to that of AD in younger people. The other development was the rediscovery that AD has a rich phenomenology. The non-cognitive symptomatology of AD is integral to the clinical manifestation of this disease, and is a major cause of carer burden and medical intervention. This second phase of research—the recognition that both the neuropathology and clinical phenomenology described by Alzheimer occur in what had previously been though of as senile dementia or, worse, just ageing, was accompanied by a growing understanding of the neurotransmitter deficits in AD. The cholinergic hypothesis provided the first glimpse of possible interventions, and remains the most important finding from this period of AD investigations. The third phase of AD research encompasses the use of molecular approaches to understanding pathogenesis. The techniques of molecular biology have been applied to understanding the formation of plaques and tangles, to a growing understanding of the genetic aetiology of much of AD, and, through the use of transgenic approaches, to developing animal and cellular models of pathogenesis.

Just as research can broadly be seen to have three phases—discovery, neuropathology, and molecular aspects—so too does the clinical response to AD. For many years cognitive impairment in the elderly was perceived as senility. As a process thought to be an inevitable consequence of ageing it was difficulty to establish medical-care models. Hence the needs of the elderly with AD were not seen as requiring specialist intervention, carers needs were not realized, and public appreciation of the impact of dementia on the elderly themselves or on the family was negligible. The change in perception of AD from 'just ageing' to a disease was accompanied, and to some degree led, by the development of 'old age psychiatry' as a specialism on the one hand and by the rapid growth of the Alzheimer disease societies on the other. During this second phase of AD treatment, the goals have been to ensure that the care needs of patients are met, that families' concerns are addressed, and that behavioural disturbance is minimized. The third phase of AD treatment began with the arrival of specifically designed interventions. Compounds have been introduced that were designed to ameliorate some of the deficits incurred by the disease process, and other approaches are being developed to treat those disease processes themselves.

All About Alzheimers

All About Alzheimers

The comprehensive new ebook All About Alzheimers puts everything into perspective. Youll gain insight and awareness into the disease. Learn how to maintain the patients emotional health. Discover tactics you can use to deal with constant life changes. Find out how counselors can help, and when they should intervene. Learn safety precautions that can protect you, your family and your loved one. All About Alzheimers will truly empower you.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment