Disease - Alzheimer's


Alzheimer's disease is one form of age-related dementia, previously more often referred to collectively as senile dementia. It is characterized by gradually increasing mental deterioration and corresponding loss of memory, cognition, judgment, and of the ability to communicate. The disease is named for the German physician who first discovered it in 1906 by identifying abnormal amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain tissues. Today, modern imaging technology is used to diagnose these characteristic brain changes that are associated with Alzheimer's (NIA 2006).

Those of advanced age are primarily at risk of Alzheimer's and scientists believe that as many as 4.5 Americans are presently afflicted with the disease. Between the age of 65 and 85, incidence of Alzheimer's increases dramatically, from approximately 5% of the population to almost fifty percent (NIA 2006). Unfortunately, those figures are only expected to rise continually in the next several decades by virtue of the increasing average age of Americans as the post-World War II Baby Boom generation advances into advanced age and the fact that the average American now lives into the age range where the risk of Alzheimer's increases substantially.

Thesis Statement:

Alzheimer's disease is quickly becoming a national health and social crisis by virtue of the increasing age of the population and the fact that the average American now lives long enough to be at risk of late-onset dementias. Stem cell technologies may offer the most realistic hope of a genuine cure but conservative political opposition has severely constrained the ability of scientists to develop effective treatments. Alzheimer's - a Twenty-First Century American Health and Social Crisis:

The increasing incidence of Alzheimer's is now one of the most serious financial drains on the American healthcare system because patients typically survive as long as a decade after the onset of symptoms and almost invariably require at least several years of institutionalized care in long-term medical facilities and nursing homes. That is attributable to the tremendous amount of assistance they eventually come to require after losing virtually all cognitive abilities including those necessary for the simplest tasks.

By the late stages of Alzheimer's, the demands of providing fulltime care surpass the ability of families to provide on their own, after which they must rely on funding assistance from Medicare and Medicaid. All too often, elderly patients who saved all their lives to be able to leave an estate for the benefit of their families have no choice but to first "spend down" all of their financial assets to become eligible for public assistance programs. Nevertheless, some of the greatest costs of Alzheimer's are not measured in dollars but in the prolonged emotional agony experienced by the Alzheimer's patient's loved ones. Because the disease is so slow in developing, caretakers often find themselves gradually more and more involved in caring for loved ones as their family member loses all capacity for communication and even for recognizing their own families. For this reason, the disease has been coined "the long goodbye."

Controversy Over a Likely Approach to Effective Treatment:

Stem cell technologies offer the most realistic source of a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Stem cells are undifferentiated human tissue with virtually unlimited potential to develop into any type of tissues required for therapeutic applications. By allowing physicians to grow human organs from the patient's own tissues, stem cells may eventually replace organ donation altogether, saving thousands of lives in the process.

They have shown tremendous potential to treat…