Playing Chess May Decrease Chance of Developing Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease, named after the German psychologist Alois Alzheimer's, seems to be a disease of the twentieth century, but the brain degeneration, cognitive impairment and disturbing behavioral and psychiatric problems which characterize the disease have most likely been around for centuries. A brief lesson in Alzheimer's disease history tells us that while Dr. Alzheimer's is the disease's namesake, Alzheimer's colleague Emil Kraepelin played an equally important role in the identification of the disease. Kraepelin isolated and grouped together the symptoms of the disorder, suggesting they were a unique disease process, while Alzheimer was the first to understand what was actually happening in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. He discovered unusual plaques and tangles in the brain of one of his patients, a fifty year old woman, who exhibited the symptoms of the disorder identified by Kraepelin.
After Kraepelin and Alzheimer's identification of the disease in the early twentieth century, Alzheimer's disease history shows that not many advances were made in understanding or treating the disease, which could only be diagnosed post-mortem with an autopsy, until the end of the twentieth century. The disease was first diagnosed in patients between the ages of 45 and 65 and labeled as "presenile dementia." The name Alzheimer's disease only gained popularity in the 70s and 80s as a label for patients over the age of 65. Now the disease has recognizable and diagnosable symptoms, which can appear in patients as young as 30. Typically, an aggressive type of Alzheimer's disease that occurs in patients under the age of 65 has a known genetic factor, while the appearance of the disease in patients over 65 has a number of other factors in regards to its development, such as health, occupation, and environment.
Recent advances in science and technology have led to a promising new era in Alzheimer's disease history. Cognex, the first FDA-approved drug used to slow the disease process, hit the markets in 1990, and three others soon followed. The medications slow cognitive impairment in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease by boosting depleted levels of acetylcholine in the brain, which are crucial to the healthy functioning of neurons. Other research is being done on ways to prevent Alzheimer's from developing. Certain 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 demanding occupations, dance, and chess have been found to decrease older people's chances of developing Alzheimer's. Even something as simple as wearing a seatbelt or helmet could be crucial to preventing Alzheimer's disease.
Early detection techniques are being honed to improve treatment of the disease. For example, genetic research has discovered genetic markers for Familial Alzheimer's disease as well as non-familial Alzheimer's. 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 Alzheimer's 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; therefore, researchers are scrambling to make Alzheimer's disease history.
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