Vail Daily column: Understanding Alzheimer’s |

Vail Daily column: Understanding Alzheimer’s

Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts.

Alzheimer’s is a nefarious disease. For people who have had a loved one afflicted with the disease, or any other memory impediment, asking what can be done to make things better is not clear cut.

Often, by the time overt signs of impediment are noticed, modifying the course of severity may be challenging. However, what if we could mitigate the potential for the occurrence?

Alzheimer’s stages

Alzheimer’s is a disease that often develops long before any symptoms are noticed. Fortunately with advancements in new imaging technologies and research on how the communication networks of the brain work, medical professional now have greater insight on the biomarkers that indicate an increased risk of development.

Frequently, medical professionals describe Alzheimer’s as mild, moderate or severe. While each person may experience the symptoms differently, in general, people within the mild Alzheimer’s may experience difficulty with misplacing and losing items, remembering names and executive functions such as impulse control, planning, reasoning and problem solving and completing tasks.

Moderate stage Alzheimer’s is often associated with clearer visual indicators such as challenges with coordination, decreased judgment, changes in personality and difficulty when expressing thoughts. Often, this is when people become more confused and feel uncomfortable in changing environments. Consistency, calm and familiar setting are key.

Severe Alzheimer’s is associated with an inability to communicate, agitation, a greater impact on physical capabilities and personality changes. Often, people lose their ability to respond to their environment, have difficulty chewing and swallowing and become susceptible to illness.

Recent Alzheimer’s research is providing insight that may be beneficial. Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have made some recent breakthroughs in understanding correlations between Alzheimer’s disease and how the brain’s natural defense mechanisms may be inadvertently destroying connections between nerve cells with the excess development of free radicals, amyloid plaques, and, ultimately, neurofibroid tangles.

As we age, there are numerous types of unwanted proteins that build up between our cells. Collectively these are known as forms of amyloid.

These buildups are chemically “sticky” and gradually clump together to develop into plaques. As the plaques clump together, they may trigger inflammation and ultimately form neurofibroid tangles.

To simplify a complex process, amyloid plaques and free radicals develop in response to the brain protecting itself from invading microbes or infections. Amyloids encapsulate the infecting microbes, which lead to process whereby free radicals and, ultimately, neurofibroid tangles develop.

Normally, amyloid and free radicals play important part in the brain as they fight off disease.

Balancing free radicals

Free radicals and antioxidants have a yin and yang relationship. Free radicals are like thieves while antioxidants are like the authorities.

Free radicals are atoms that have been stripped of an electron. Because atoms are stable when they consist of paired electrons, leaving the atom un-paired creates instability. When this happens, free radicals are formed.

As free radicals multiply, they strip other atoms of their paired electron. This chain of electron stripping causes cellular death, or oxidation.

To prevent free radical damage the body has a defense system of antioxidants. A tool for attacking invading microbes and balancing free radicals within the brain is the development of antioxidants. One of the most prevalent antioxidants in the brain is called glutathione. Antioxidants such as glutathione are integral in providing protection from oxidative stress, which has been associated with diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Preventative measures

While no drug has been shown to be completely effective in the protection from Alzheimer’s, there is research indicating that antioxidant supplements may play a preventive role.

Next week talk about preventive and disease-modifying strategies. There is research indicating that supplements such turmeric, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and N-acetylcysteine (glutathione) may help slow the disease’s progression or delay the onset.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care. For more information, go to or call 970-328-5526.

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