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What are the Different Areas of Alzheimer's Research?

Article Details
  • Written By: Dorothy Bland
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Although Alzheimer’s research is constantly progressing, research can generally be classified into four major areas: cause, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. At present, the cause of Alzheimer’s is not fully known. What is generally understood, however, is that the progressive brain disease kills brain cells affecting memory and thinking. As the disease advances, Alzheimer’s patients can lose their identity and the ability to carry out even simple everyday tasks.

Some risk factors have been identified that make certain groups more vulnerable to getting Alzheimer’s than others. For example, cognitive research has revealed that being 65 years of age or older and having a family history of the disease increases the likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s. Several genes have also been identified that directly contribute to the disease. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s research has revealed that an increased risk is also associated with head injuries and poor general health. Additional studies have also determined that obesity, smoking, and cardiovascular disease can all negatively impact brain health and lead to Alzheimer’s.

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One current treatment for Alzheimer’s uses memory tests to catch mental decline. At the point when mental decline begins to appear, however, severe brain damage has probably already occurred. On the other hand, when Alzheimer’s is caught in its earliest stages, treatment may be more effective and can slow the progression of the disease, allowing the patient to remain functional for longer. To achieve this goal, diagnostic Alzheimer’s research is focused on creating reliable testing standards that are inexpensive to administer and accessible in all doctor’s offices for quick, accurate testing. One new test that is gaining attention among Alzheimer’s researchers is the use of neuroimaging, scans that can detect early stage changes in the brain's structure, thereby allowing treatment to focus on preventing irreversible brain damage.

As of 2010, Alzheimer’s treatments are only capable of improving the symptoms to temporarily reduce memory loss. To manage behavioral and psychiatric symptoms, antidepressant and anti-psychotic medications may also be given. New brain research methods being explored, however, may have the ability to actually stop the disease in its tracks or at least significantly delay the death of brain cells. Treatments in development are likely to focus on modifying the brain changes that Alzheimer’s causes. New drugs likely on the horizon are nose sprays that treat insulin resistance, anti-inflammatory medications that reduce brain inflammation, and a vaccine that works by targeting plagues in the brain that cause nerve damage.

Although there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s or way to prevent the disease, a major area of current Alzheimer’s research is focusing on just that. Like cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions, there is no one factor that leads to Alzheimer’s. Rather, its development is due to a complex range of factors, including genetics, age, and lifestyle. By taking into account lifestyle factors, researchers hope to lower the risk of people developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. New research also examines how exercise can benefit the cardiovascular system and increase blood flow to the brain. It is also taking into account how drinking tea, consuming vitamin E, and using ginkgo biloba could possibly provide some protection.

Family members and caregivers taking care of a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s often have a physically and emotionally taxing burden on their hands, and researchers acknowledge that caregiving is also a vital part of Alzheimer’s research. As the disease progresses, caregivers frequently have to deal with providing round-the-clock daily care. Many caregivers become so overwhelmed that they neglect their own health and experience grief, guilt, and depressive symptoms. To help caregivers cope and reduce stress, research in this area centers on education and support programs that help caregivers prepare for what is to come. Accessing respite services, hospice care, and other health services can often help reduce the load on the caregiver and improve the quality of treatment that the Alzheimer’s patient experiences.

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