Alzheimer’s is a really horrible disease. Slowly but surely it makes its way through a lifetime of memories and discards them into oblivion. It’s like being stuck on rewind in some ways. Your friends, your family, your experiences, your personality are all forgotten, until you end up at the final, most infantile stage of dementia. Its something that not only affects the individual, but also can be devastating for those around them. With an ageing population, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in society is set to increase. But there’s a lot of good news to be found in science. Over the last three decades, significant progress has been made, and new ideas are constantly surfacing.
Alzheimer’s in Society
The current number of Alzheimer’s sufferers is estimated at 35.6 million people worldwide. This figure is set to triple within the next forty years with the world’s ageing population. Not only is this significant in terms of its effect on the family, but Alzheimer's is also a great financial burden. The UK alone spends about £23 billion on dementia, not including the billions in value from family carers. In short, Alzheimer's is a big deal for everyone.
The Science of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is initially defined with a loss of memory. Symptoms can range from forgetfulness and difficulty communicating in the early stages to the inability to carry out everyday functions such as bathing and eating at later stages. Behaviour also changes, as sufferers can be more aggressive and mood swings become more common. Depression is also very common in sufferers.
It is a multifactorial disease. This means that there is no known single factor that can determine its development. However, there are several known risk factors that will increase an individual’s susceptibility. The main risk factor is advancing age, but other factors include:
· family history
· genetic mutations
· cardiovascular disease
· head trauma
The Ultimate Question: How far do genes influence the development of Alzheimer’s Disease?
In 2006 a BBC article confidently bore the headline ‘Alzheimer’s risk is 80% genetic’ based on the results of an extensive twin study (BBC News, 2006). However, the causes of the disease are really not this clear-cut. Even after over a century of research, scientists still debate about the various causes. This series of blog posts will discuss research into the genetic and environmental risk factors for Alzheimer’s and try to evaluate how far genes influence the development of Alzheimer’s.
If you're interested...
BBC News, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news
(the consequences of an ageing population)
Original BBC article from 2006:
BBC News, 2006. Alzheimer’s Disease is ‘80% genetic’ [online] Available at: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi
/health/4686806.stm> [Accessed 12 July 2012]
Source of demographic statistics:
World Health Organisation and Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2012. Dementia: a public health priority [pdf] World Health Organisation : Geneva. Available at: <http://whqlibdoc.who.int
9789241564458_eng.pdf> [Accessed 12 July 2012]