The human brain is the most advanced organ, and while there are animals that show heightened intelligence, no other animal on the planet comes close to our mental capacity. To call it a supercomputer would be an understatement with how many processes it carries out and the information it decodes regularly. According to a study conducted in 2015, the human brain on average has a storage memory of about 2.5 million gigabytes. With such a complex organ, some things are bound to go wrong, and when it does, we come across one of the most detrimental mental disorders, i.e., Alzheimer’s disease. It is a form of Dementia, in which a person’s ability to think, behave, and socialize regresses constantly. Here are some facts about this disease:
1. Higher Among Women
Statistics provided by numerous studies around the world show that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to men, twice as much to be precise. A study conducted in Sweden with 16,926 people over the age of 65, found that a higher number of women of the same age had developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study found that 13 women out of 1,000 develop Alzheimer’s disease each year.
Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men 2 to 1 – why is that?
There are many factors as to why more women are affected by dementia than men, from aging to hormones. This #InternationalWomensDay, read more on the research behind dementia in women: https://t.co/1U0ghBs8Fg
— Alzheimer's Society (@alzheimerssoc) March 8, 2020
2. Why Are Women at a Higher Risk?
According to the result of Alzheimer’s research carried out by the Harvard Medical School, it is because of their stronger immune system. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by amyloid plaques, and researchers believe that women’s immune systems might be increasing it to fight against infections. Unsurprisingly, the number of recorded cases for autoimmune diseases around the world also has a higher number of women patients.
3. Women to the Rescue
While it is true that women are more likely to suffer from this disease, they are also the ones in higher numbers when it comes to providing for Alzheimer’s patients. Statistics show that three out of five Alzheimer’s caregivers are women. Additionally, it is noted that on average there are 2.5 times more full-time women caregivers than men. Also, women at 19% are more likely to quit their jobs to become full-time caregivers.
4. Not Rare
Among all the types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, there were almost 5.8 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States alone. Also, it is stated that every 5 years the number of people with this disease doubles after the age of 65. Moreover, these out-of-proportion numbers are not just in the United States, as in the United Kingdom, in 2019, it was reported that 850,000 people were living with dementia, which roughly means every person among 14 people had Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Not just limited to Elderly
Although people over the age of 65 are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, it is not exclusive to the elder population. When a young person starts showing symptoms of dementia, it is referred to as Young-onset or Early on-set Alzheimer’s. Moreover, it is not uncommon either, among all the people that have Alzheimer’s disease, about 6% are people under the age of 65. In the United States, it is said that about 200,000 people have young-onset Alzheimer’s. Plus, Alzheimer’s starts developing as early as the age of 35.
6. Discovered in the Last Century
The Discovery of this disease is credited to a German researcher and pathologist, Alois Alzheimer. He was born in Bavaria, and following his graduation in 1887, he began working at the state asylum in Frankfurt. Alois became fascinated with the neurological workings of the brain during this time, and he conducted his research, which he published in the years between 1907 and 1918. However, he was invited to present a talk at the 37th Congress of Psychiatrists of Southern Germany in 1906, where he first described his findings as an “unusual disease of the cerebral cortex” in a patient named, Auguste D. During this talk, he stated that the symptoms are loss of memory, disorientation, and hallucinations that worsen until the death of the patient at the age of 50. An autopsy was conducted, and Alois found that the cerebral cortex was significantly thinner compared to a normal brain. Interestingly, the disease was named by one of Alois’ assistants, Emil Kraepelin.
7. Smell and the Brain
While it is not accepted fully in the medical community, some experts believe that lack of smell or reduced smell (hyposmia) are early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. A study was conducted in the United States with 3,000 people of age between 57 and 85. It was found that among the participants who had a poor sense of smell developed Alzheimer’s disease within 5 years of the study, independent of other risk factors. The reason behind this is given that cognitive impairment results in compromised control of sense of smell.
8. Troubling Statistics
According to experts, the causes of Alzheimer’s disease will increase tremendously. in 2020, 55 million people were diagnosed with this disease, and this number is likely to jump 139 million by the end of 2050. Moreover, according to the Alzheimer’s Disease International, a new case of dementia arises every 3 seconds. It is said that if dementia was a country, it would be the 14th largest economy in the world. While it doesn’t sound bad until you realize that, presently, Australia is in the 13th spot.
9. Affecting Others
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease require extensive care, and that is a well-known fact; however, over 50% of the caregivers worldwide accepted that their mental health has also suffered significantly while caring for the patients. Expressing positive emotions was among one of the biggest challenges for them, and a majority of caregivers develop depression while caring for patients.
10. It’s Deadly
Alzheimer’s Association state that it is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and it is rapidly increasing among the population. It is a neurological disorder that affects the patient by halting the transmission of brain signals. In the final stages of Alzheimer’s, patients begin to lose their ability to communicate whatsoever, and even stop responding to their surroundings. When the brain is damaged significantly, its ability to regulate the functions of vital organs such as lungs, heart, and metabolism stops causing the death of the patient.
One of the most devastating facts about this disease is that, presently, there is no cure available for it. Although scientists are continuously working on vaccines, so far they have been unsuccessful. Still, if Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed early on, treatments are available that can prolong its effects and allow one to live normally for a longer duration.
12. Partner in Crime
Alzheimer’s being an incurable disease makes it a particularly difficult medical condition; however, in all the cases of Alzheimer’s disease, it was noted that all the patients had some form of chronic disease as well. A report provided by the Health News US shows that nearly 60% of Alzheimer’s patients had chronic high blood pressure, patients with coronary artery disease accounted for 26%, closely followed by 23% of diabetics, and 18% had some form of bone disorder such as osteoporosis.
13. Alters the Brain Structure
There have been countless studies that prove that the brain can change its shape depending on the person’s experience. Neuroplasticity is the field of study that deals exclusively with this, although the brain doesn’t change drastically, the structure of neurons does, which transmits signals. While Alzheimer’s disease is known to damage the neurons, new studies are surfacing that show that it also alters their structure. Mainly it affects the cerebral cortex of the brain, and it alters the structure of ventricles by either enlargening or shrinking them. Due to this change in the brain certain body parts struggle to perform their designated tasks, such as the eye’s ability to detect movement.
14. Emotions are Intact
According to BBC News, people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease still retain a deeper emotional memory contrary to the accepted belief. Researchers claim that patients may not greet or respond like they used to; however, meeting their loved ones generate strong emotions in them despite not knowing the reason behind it. Sadly, when a survey was conducted by the BBC, nearly 42% of people thought that staying in touch with their family members who had Alzheimer’s is pointless. Moreover, as the disease progresses, patients tend to become agitated and sleepless, which results in verbal and physical aggression.
15. Learning is the Key
Since it is proven that the brain changes its structure as new information is collected and experiences are gained, among them, learning has been seen to significantly increase the rate at which the brain changes its neurons, and learning a new language, playing music, or a new set of skills can lower the chances of developing Alzheimer’s decreases significantly. According to Professor Carol Brayne from the University of Cambridge, the risk of dementia decreases by 11% each year that is spent learning. His statement was based on an extensive 20 years-long study that he conducted with a team of physicians from the UK and Finland. Moreover, this is among only three studies of its kind. In total, 872 patients over the age of 65 took a part in this study, and all of them provided consent for an autopsy following their death, and it was found that the ones who had spent years learning new activities didn’t develop dementia.
16. Saviour Bonds
Similar to engaging in new learning opportunities, developing a higher number of social connections also help in minimizing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Alzheimer’s Association, social interactions provide mental stimulation that strengthens the connection between the nerve cells.
17. It’s Political
Out of the recorded cases of dementia in the world, nearly 60% of them are from below-average income, living in third-world nations. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, this number is likely to reach 71% in 2050. The stress of bringing food to the table certainly takes its toll.