Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques

Much research is being done to develop tests for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. But conclusive diagnosis must await death and an autopsy. Amyloid plaques are the defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease.1 But these require an autopsy to observe. Virtually everyone with the ailment has these plaques present in their brain. Thus, the presence of amyloid plaques appears to be a necessary condition for the disease. However, their presence is not a sufficient condition. There are people whose autopsies find that their brains are ravaged by amyloid plaques, yet they never exhibited any signs of cognitive impairment.

So the question is are the amyloid plaques the cause of Alzheimer’s or are they a symptom? An earlier Healthymemory Blog Post, “Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease”, discussed the possible role that glial cells play. In spite of a large amount of research, we still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, drugs have been developed. To this point, no drug has been found to cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, but there are drugs that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. A friend of mine told me about his father-in-law who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The father-in-law’s disease has progressed to the point where he does not remember who his son-in-law is. He no longer remembers who he himself is. Still he receives expensive drugs that will slow his death as well as slow his release from his miserable state.

Much work is also being done to develop tests that can diagnose Alzheimer’s early. The hope is that early diagnosis will enable early treatment which will either cure Alzheimer’s or reduce the progression of the disease to a crawl. But, there are no treatments yet. Personally, I have no interest in taking a test that will inform me I have an incurable condition. I do, however, applaud those who take tests and participate in experimental trials of drugs with the hope that they will lead to a successful treatment.

It should be remembered that all tests are flawed and produce false alarms. That is they can inform you that you have the condition, when in fact you do not. Also remember the cases discussed above in which brains that are ravaged with amyloid plaques belonged to people who exhibited no evidence of cognitive decline. How can this be? The most prominent theory is that these people had a cognitive reserve that either prevented the occurrence of the disease or slowed its progression to the point where it was not noticeable. These cognitive reserves are thought to be the result of people who stayed mentally active. Leading a healthy lifestyle is also important. So the path I am following is to build up this cognitive reserve. The Healthymemory Blog is devoted to activities and information that should be helpful in building this cognitive reserve.

1Weir, K. (2011). Memory keepers. Monitor on Psychology, June, 32-35.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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