06 June 2004

Alzheimer's Disease, The Memory Eraser

Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the US, is dead at 93. God bless his soul. He expired in his California home after taking a turn for the worse in his ten-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. At age 93, he was the longest-surviving former president in U.S. history. His loving wife, Nancy, was at his bedside. According to a BBC report:
"When he announced his Alzheimer's in a letter to the American people, Ronald Reagan's first thought was for his beloved wife. His statement read: "I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease... I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience." Nancy, who had centred her life on Ronald Reagan for the past 40 years, was to become his rock more than ever. His death has ended what Charlton Heston once described as "the greatest love affair in the history of the American presidency".

In a speech Nancy Reagan delivered sometime in August 1996, she described how Alzheimer's Disease ruins the lives of both patient and family relatives:
"We have learned as too many other families have learned of the terrible pain and loneliness that must be endured as each day brings another reminder of this very long goodbye." The full text of her speech can be seen here.

Alzheimer's Disease is indeed a killjoy and a party pooper of this planet's most enduring love stories. It is also a tormenting and painful illness, for the patient gradually suffers from memory loss, which at its ultimate makes one forget who he is, and who his relatives are.

The picture above shows a gross description of what an Alzheimer's brain looks like post-mortem. Note the widened spaces in the brain structures in the front-to-center aspect (frontoparietal area). There is also marked shrinking of the front part of the brain (atrophy). Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of presenile dementia. It s a chronic, progressive organic, mental disease that results in a failure of memory for recent events and emotional changes, depression, anxiety, and unpredictable behaviors. There is progressive apathy, space perception disorders, a shuffling gait, slow and awkward movements, and jerky muscle contractions (myoclonus), and irreversible loss of speech and memory eventually leading to the late vegetative phase consisting of complete inability to think, move, or speak. The patient usually dies of pneumonia, heart attack, or stroke.

It most commonly appears during midlife, between the 50th and 60th year. Patients younger than 45 years are very rare. Over 32% of the population over 85 years are affected and the incidence increases rapidly after that.

If you ask me, it is a cruel way to die with this ailment. The patient expires like a candle burning out, and his relatives are devastated as well, especially if they know little about the disease.

Pray hard to God that you don't get this.

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