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The ominous diagnosis of Alzheimer's: more and more people are developing dementia
Around 700,000 people with the diagnosis of “Alzheimer's disease” live in Germany. Experts believe that the number could double by 2050. The brain disease begins with a slight forgetfulness and develops to pronounced dementia. At this stage, those affected no longer recognize even their closest relatives. As was announced yesterday, Rudi Assauer also suffers from the neurodegenerative disease, which is considered to be incurable. The cause of Alzheimer's is still unknown, but scientists around the world are researching active ingredients that alleviate symptoms or prevent the onset of the disease. The United States has taken on a pioneering role by legislating at the beginning of the year to develop a strategy to fight Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's is a creeping disease First of all, patients become noticeable due to their easy forgetfulness, keep asking the same question or telling the same story, forget how to do everyday tasks, misplace objects and neglect their appearance. In the advanced stage, they no longer recognize even close family members.
But the disease begins many years before clinical symptoms appear with the deposition of so-called senile plaques and neurofibrils in the brain. The protein deposits of the plaques essentially consist of the beta-amyloid peptide. Neurofibril bundles are located intracellularly and consist of the tau protein, which aggregates into fibrils through increased occupation with phosphoric acid residues (hyperphosphorylation). It is not yet known whether tau phosphorylation triggers the disease or is caused by it. The deposits cause neurons to die, which results in a decrease in brain mass. In addition, the messenger substance acetylcholine is not produced in sufficient quantities, which leads to a general decrease in brain performance.
Around 1.3 million people with dementia live in Germany Experts estimate that there are around 1.3 million people with dementia in Germany. It is not always an Alzheimer's disease. This is diagnosed when the corresponding deposits in the brain are detected. The suspicion of “Alzheimer's disease” has currently been confirmed in around 700,000 citizens. The chair of the Alzheimer's Research Advisory Board in the United States, Ronald Peterson, explains: "The greatest risk factor is age." The number of Alzheimer's cases could double by 2050. "Now the baby boomer generation is reaching this age." The disease occurs in most cases over the age of 65. But there are also rarer sub-forms, which affect much younger people.
The United States sets a good example on Alzheimer's The United States Congress was the first to legally oblige a government to adopt a strategic plan of action in the fight against Alzheimer's. Ambitious goals were set so that, for example, it should be possible to slow the progression of the disease through medication, delay the outbreak or even prevent it by 2025. But there are still many unknown questions. Neither the causes of Alzheimer's nor the reasons for the breakdown of nerve cells are known to date. The disease appears to be partly genetic. Inflammation could also help. In addition, the use of drugs and their efficacy is sometimes controversial among medical professionals. So far, only symptoms can be reduced by drug therapies and the progression of the disease can be slowed down somewhat.
In particular, researchers are looking for diagnostic methods that can be used earlier and provide clear results. Last year, chemists from the TU Darmstadt and pathologists from the Darmstadt Clinic developed a promising diagnostic procedure that can detect the tau proteins in the nasal mucosa at an early stage.
The US government’s schedule requires immediate action. Petersen reports: “We have to remain scientifically credible. Will there be a cure for Alzheimer's by 2020? Definitely not. But will we have made any progress by then? Will we be able to shorten the procedure for the development of drugs, their evaluation and approval? I think all of this is realistic. "
Help for those affected and relatives Relatives are often overwhelmed with the care and support of dementia patients. There has been little or no support for these families for a long time. In the meantime, however, many initiatives, associations and self-help groups have been founded, in which relatives and those affected receive help. The German Alzheimer's Association, for example, arranges appropriate contacts.
Sabine Schwarz from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) explains: "The training of relatives can mean that people with dementia can be cared for longer in their familiar surroundings and do not have to go to an institution."
Dementia is not the same as Alzheimer's disease. Although Alzheimer's patients suffer from dementia, not everyone suffering from dementia, on the other hand, also suffers from Alzheimer's disease (dementia and Alzheimer's disease). In addition to neuropsychological tests, there are imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find out what type of dementia is affected, which can be used to detect deposits typical of Alzheimer's in the brain.
For therapy and care, it is imperative that Alzheimer's be differentiated from other diseases with overlapping symptoms. These include age-related forgetfulness, depression in the elderly, brain tumors and injuries, autism, metabolic disorders (low blood sugar) in diabetics, psychoses and simple aphasia.
Celebrities bring the topic of “Alzheimer's” to the public As was announced yesterday, Rudi Assauer, known as a former football player and ex-Schalke manager, also suffers from Alzheimer's disease. He told the ZDF very personally about his illness: “I played football at a high level for years. Now suddenly everything is over. ”The insidious illness changed his life completely. "I'm so angry that I can't keep up."
Celebrities like Assauer bring the disease into the public eye, which nobody wanted to talk about for a long time, because who likes to admit that he is slowly but surely losing his mind, his personality, maybe even himself? When it became known in 1994 that former US President Ronald Reagan also had Alzheimer's, he said in a moving speech: "I am now starting the journey that will lead me to the sunset of my life". In June 2004, he died of the effects of the illness. (ag)
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