This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Barbara Klein. Today we tell about
Alzheimer's disease. More than a century
after its discovery, Alzheimer's disease is still destroying people's
brains. The cause remains unknown.
September twenty-first is World Alzheimer's Day. The theme for the observance this year is
"Diagnosing Dementia: See It Sooner." The goal is early identification of the disease so those affected get
the treatment they need.
the world, there will be walks to raise money for medical research. Training courses and educational meetings
also are planned.
the United States, for example, more than twenty thousand teams are preparing
for what organizers call memory walks. Singapore
will hold public events in at least three languages: English, Malay and
Mandarin. And, Barbados will mark World
Alzheimer's Day with events like a religious service, a health fair and performances
thirty million people around the world have Alzheimer's disease. In the United States alone, more than five
million people are said to suffer from this slowly increasing brain disorder.
affects memory and personality -- those qualities that make a person an
individual. There is no known cure. Victims slowly lose their abilities to deal
with everyday life.
first, they forget simple things, like where they put something or a person's
name. As time passes, they forget more
and more. They forget the names of their
husbands, wives or children. Then they
forget who they are.
Finally, they remember almost nothing. It is as if their brain dies before the other
parts of the body. Victims of
Alzheimer's do die from its effects or conditions linked to it. But death may not come for many years.
disease is the most common disability or mental sickness called dementia. Dementia is the loss of thinking ability that
is severe enough to interfere with daily activities. It is not a disease itself. Instead, dementia is a group of signs of some
conditions and diseases.
kinds of dementia can be cured or corrected. This is especially true if they result from drugs, infection, sight or
hearing problems, head injury, and heart or lung problems. Other kinds of dementia can be corrected by
changing levels of hormones or vitamins in the body. However, brain cells of Alzheimer's victims
die and are not replaced.
can become angry and violent as the ability to think and remember decreases. They sometimes shout and move with no purpose
or goal. Media reports tell about older
adults found walking in places far from their homes. They do not know where they are or where they
came from. These people often are
suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's generally develops differently in each
person. Yet some early signs of the
disease are common. The victims may not
recognize changes in themselves. Others
see the changes and struggle to hide them.
the most common early sign is short-term memory loss. The victim cannot remember something that
happened yesterday, for example. Also,
victims of the disease have increasing difficulty learning and storing new
information. Slowly, thinking becomes
much more difficult. The victims cannot
understand a joke, or cannot cook a meal, or perform simple work.
Another sign of the disease is difficulty solving
simple problems. Alzheimer's patients
might not know what to do if food on a stove is burning. Also, people have trouble following
directions or finding their way to places they have known all their lives.
Yet another sign is struggling to find the right words
to express thoughts or understand what is being discussed. Finally, people with Alzheimer's seem to
change. Quiet people may become noisy
and aggressive. They may easily become
angry and lose their ability to trust others.
disease normally affects people more than sixty-five years old. But rare cases have been discovered in people
younger than fifty.
is identified in only about two percent of people who are sixty-five. But the risk increases to about twenty
percent by age eighty. By eighty five or
ninety, half of all people are found to have some signs of the disease.
people of all races equally. Yet women
are more likely to develop the disease than men. This is partly because women generally live
longer than men.
There is no one, simple test to show if
someone has Alzheimer's disease. Social
workers and mental health experts sometimes test for memory and judgment. Patients may be asked to identify smells like
smoke, natural gas or fruits. Some
scientists say a weakened ability to identify smells may be involved. They believe it might show possible
development of Alzheimer's.
Doctors who suspect a patient has
Alzheimer's must test the person for many other physical problems first. Alzheimer's is considered if the tests fail
to show the existence of other problems. The only way to be sure a person has Alzheimer's is to examine the
victim's brain after death.
People who care for Alzheimer's patients may become
extremely tired physically and emotionally. Families often can get advice and emotional support from local
groups. The Alzheimer's Disease
Education and Referral Center and the Alzheimer's Association provide
information and support.
group, Alzheimer's Disease International, lists ten symptoms of the disease on
its Web site. The list shows the difference between these signs
of normal aging and the possibility of developing Alzheimer's.
cannot fully recover from the disease. But many can be helped by medicine. That is especially true if the disease is found early.
Food and Drug Administration has approved several drugs to treat symptoms of
the disease. The drugs are of two
kinds. A doctor must order these
medicines for patients. Most are called
Cholinesterase inhibitors may work by protecting a
chemical messenger needed for brain activities. They are meant to treat memory, thinking, language, judgment and other
brain activity. They are used for mild
to moderate cases of the disease.
The second kind of drug has a long
name. It is represented by the drug
memantine. This medicine seems to work
by governing the activity of a chemical involved in information processing,
storage and memory. It treats patients
with moderate to severe Alzheimer's.
The British writer Iris Murdoch died of Alzheimer's
disease. She said it was a dark and
two thousand-seven film "Away From Her" tells what happens to one marriage when
a partner suffers from the disease. Julie Christie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for playing
the patient. Listen as she describes the
pain of her mental condition.
CHRISTIE: "Half the time I wander around looking for something I
can't remember what it is. Everything is
has been more than a century since a German doctor, Alois Alzheimer, told about
a dementia patient whose brain was studied after death. Her brain had sticky structures and nerve
cells that appeared to be mixed together.
Later studies showed these nerves are made of a protein
that changes so it sticks together in groups. The sticky structures were shown to be amyloid plaques.
are still not sure what causes Alzheimer's disease. The leading theory blames amyloid
plaques. Still, a theory exists that
amyloid plaques are an effect of the disease, not the cause.
continues on possible genetic causes. This
month, two teams of European researchers said they identified new genetic
markers linked to Alzheimer's disease. The teams worked separately. Their findings were reported in the journal Nature Genetics.
The newly-found genetic markers
may affect a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's. Until now, only four genes had been linked
with the disease. They provided a better
understanding of the disease process, but no immediate treatment.
Many more studies are being done to find the causes and
treatment of Alzheimer's.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Barbara Klein.
this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next
week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of