FEATURES: Advancements Being Made In Battle Against Alzheimer’s
By Kristin Frank – Staff Reporter
In 2002, John Dauscher, a husband, father of eight, and grandfather of 10, was diagnosed with a devastating disease that would impact the last seven years he had to live. When Dauscher was 70, his irregular patterns and abnormal memory loss determined the fact that his brain had developed the Alzheimer’s disease.
Living with this permanent illness was no easy ride. For the last two years of Dauscher’s life, he was no longer able to speak; it was like his brain forgot how to. Also, he did not eat, chew, or swallow for the final year of his life. Dauscher had Alzheimer’s for seven years, and in those seven years he never went to a hospital to treat this disease. The morning of his death, his wife, Frances Dauscher, woke up to find her husband unable to breath correctly. He was struggling and his face was pale. That morning, he was admitted to the hospital.
“Happy Birthday, Mary,” Dauscher said two years before he passed away on December 23, 2009. Little did his family and friends know these words were the last to be spoken from Dauscher. Mary Dauscher is one of John’s five daughters. At this birthday party for Mary, the family spoke to Dauscher for the last time.
Alzheimer’s is proven to be a hereditary disease. Dauscher’s older sister and brother also lost their battle in fighting Alzheimer’s. There are many other members in this family that are able to inherit this setback in life. There is only little time before another generation is affected by Alzheimer’s. Many treatments are on the way to prevent this heartbreaking disease from taking over the lives of the Dauscher family and others.
John Dauscher is one of the 5.5 million people in the world who has suffered from Alzheimer’s. In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer noticed irregular changes in a woman’s brain tissue who had passed away from an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms of the disease include memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. From Dr. Alzheimer’s findings, this is house the name of the disease came to be.
Doctors have proven that Alzheimer’s disease is a serious illness that affects the brain and how it operates. A human brain is broken up into three parts essentially. The largest part of the brain is the cerebrum. The cerebrum involves remembering, problem solving, thinking, and feeling. This part of the brain also controls the movement of the body. The second part of the brain controls coordination and balance. This part sits in back of the head; it is called the cerebellum. The brain stem is located beneath your cerebrum and in front of your cerebellum. This connects the brain to the spinal cords and controls automatic functions that include breathing, digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The cortex of a human brain is known as the “thinking wrinkles.” The certain functions that the cortex is linked to are: sensations, sights, sounds, smells, generates thoughts, solves problems, makes plans, forms and stores memories, and controls voluntary movement. When someone suffers from Alzheimer’s, all of these functions that seem effortless for us, are unmanageable for them.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that destroy neurons which are the main cells in the brain. The neurons connect and communicate at synapses. Synapses contain information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. They contain a small gap of separating neurons. This site in the brain consists of: a presynaptic ending that contains neurotransmitters, mitochondria, and other cell organelles.
On April 10, 1980, an organization was created to help and provide support to anyone who may be caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Alz.org offers detailed information about the brain and how it works, as well as home remedies and medications to try and treat this disease.
There are current medications that are used to lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as memory loss and confusion, for a limited time. Although the medications as of right now, cannot cure the disease or stop it from progressing, doctors and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are on their way to approving more drugs for a cancellation of Alzheimer’s. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are medications used to treat the cognitive symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning. Doctors have noted that as Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections among cells are lost. This causes the cognitive symptoms to worsen.
These medications are used to not fully cure the disease, but to lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time. The stabilization of the disease is done by either drug, Cholinesterase inhibitors or memantine, altering certain chemicals linked with carrying messages among the brain’s nerve cells. In more recent years, doctors have prescribed both Cholinesterase and memantine together. Doctors believe that taking these two medications at the same time, will increase the chance of slowing down the process of memory loss and confusion which are aspects of Alzheimer’s.
The benefits of Cholinesterase inhibitors vary depending on the different parts of the brain. When analyzing the cerebrum, which controls problem solving and memory, Cholinesterase prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger crucial for those functions that are managed in the cerebrum.
When taking these inhibitors, it can delay the symptoms that this disease carries for six to 12 months. This is an average of half the people who have taken them and has seen partial success of what they had hoped for, prior consumption. There are some downfalls of Cholinesterase inhibitors. The side effects that come along with taking this drug are tolerated. The reactions include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and an increased frequency of bowel movement.
There are three cholinesterase inhibitors that are prescribed more commonly than others. Donepezil, is recognized to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s. When dealing with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, both Rivastigmine and Galantamine is approved.
As for Memantine, this drug works in similar ways to Cholinesterase inhibitors when considering the delaying of Alzheimer’s. Memantine regulates the activity of glutamate, which is a different messenger chemical than acetylcholine. Glutamate mediates a lot information in the brain and plays an important role in the learning process and memory. It is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter that is released by nerve cells in the brain. Glutamate is responsible for sending signals between nerve cells.
There are a few more medications that the FDA have approved of as well. These drugs treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but not the disease as a whole. Donepezil, also known as Aricept, is approved for all stages of Alzheimer’s. The FDA accepted Donepezil in 1996. Rivastigmine, or called by its brand name, Exelon, is approved for all stages as well. This drug was FDA approved in 2000. The last and most recent drug that the administration has approved was another type of Donepezil and Memantine. This drug goes by the name of Namzaric. Namzaric was approved in 2014, and in the last two years has been put to use by many Alzheimer’s patients. Many cases have proven that prescribing high doses of vitamin E can help cognitive changes of this disease.
Similar to Cholinesterase and Memantine; Donepezil, Rivastigmine, and Namzaric come with side effects. As for Donepezil and Rivastigmine, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are normal when taking these. Namzaric will bring headaches, diarrhea, dizziness, and bruising. These side effects are more intense to put up with.
The list of medications and treatments for Alzheimer’s goes on. The most important thing to note is that there are future treatment breakthroughs. Hundreds of researchers are looking for new and modern ways to treat this disease. Although current medications help disguise the symptoms and stages of Alzheimer’s, doctors just aren’t satisfied. After all the years of cases and studies that went along with each of the drugs prescribed today, they do not fully treat the underlying disease. This breakthrough drug that researchers and doctors discuss of, would treat the root of this disease as well as delay or even stop the cell damage in the brain. This will help prevent the disease from worsening because it will cease the destroying of the cells that cause the symptoms to appear.
In the future, there are several, promising drugs in the development process and in testing. This is the perfect time to change the way Alzheimer’s work and manipulates our brain cells. Finally, for the future generations of families just like the Dauscher’s, there is hope for a brighter and longer life.
In the following years to come, many lives and relationships will be saved. This devastating disease has caused millions to suffer for the last of their years to live. John Dauscher was one of the 5.5 million diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Imagine how different his life could have been with the right treatments and breakthroughs to stop the symptoms from conquering his brain.
Since researchers and doctors are creating new medications, stories like Dauscher’s will be heard less often and occur rarely. The ending of Alzheimer’s is just around the corner and will soon bring success to many.
(Some information courtesy of alz.org)