Named after Alois Alzheimers, German psychologist, Alzheimers disease gives the impression of being a disease of the twentieth century; however, the various disorders which comprise the disease have probably existed for centuries. This disease is named for Dr. Alzheimer, but his colleague Emil Kraepelin was just as important in the discovery of the disease. Kraepelin isolated and grouped together the symptoms of the disorder, and Alzheimer formulated what was actually occurring. He uncovered atypical tangles and plaques in the brain of one of his patients, who had symptoms of the syndrome identified by Kraepelin.
Following Kraepelin and Alzheimers identification of the disease early in the twentieth century, not many advances were made in understanding or treating the disease. Up until the end of the twentieth century it could be diagnosed only post-mortem with an autopsy. The disease was first diagnosed in patients between the ages of 45 and 65 and labeled as “presenile dementia."
The name Alzheimers disease only gained recognition in the 70s and 80s as a label for patients over the age of 65. Now the disease has diagnosable symptoms, and they can appear in patients as young as 30. Typically, an aggressive type of Alzheimers disease that occurs in patients under the age of 65 has a known genetic factor, while the development of the disease in patients over 65 has a number of other factors in regards to its development, such as health, environment, and occupation.
A promising new era in Alzheimers disease history has opened up with recent advances in science and technology. Cognex, the first FDA-approved drug used to slow the disease process, hit the markets in 1990, and three others soon followed. These medications retard cognitive damage in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimers disease by raising depleted levels of acetylcholine in the brain, which is crucial to the healthy functioning of neurons.
Other research is being done on ways to prevent Alzheimers from developing. Particular hormones such as estrogen and anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin have been found to have a mediating effect, and environmental factors, such as mentally trying occupations, dance, and chess have been found to decrease older peoples chances of developing Alzheimers. Even something as simple as wearing a seatbelt or helmet could be a factor in preventing Alzheimers disease.
Early detection techniques are being fine-tuned to improve treatment of the disease. For example, genetic research has discovered genetic markers for Familial Alzheimers disease as well as non-familial Alzheimers. In addition, advanced technology, such as MRIs and PET scans, are being used to detect structural changes in the brain that may indicate the development of Alzheimers disease before symptoms even begin. As the Baby Boomer generation begins to age, scientists fear the strain a large number of dementia patients could place upon the healthcare and social welfare systems; this is why researchers all over the world are rushing to make Alzheimers disease history.