What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is quite possibly one of the most heart-wrenching diseases that people all over the world struggle with every day. It is the most common form of dementia, which is a general term for memory loss and other mental abilities which are serious enough to affect people’s daily lives. Sixty to eighty percent of dementia cases are Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. It slowly destroy’s people’s memories along with their crucial mental functions. It most commonly affects people around 65 years old and above. In the most recent years, Alzheimer’s feels as if it is a normal part of the aging process, with more than 3 million U.S. cases being reported each year. Even though most cases begin around the age of 65, Alzheimer’s is not just a disease for the elderly. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s and 50s.” (alz.org)
Dementia symptoms gradually become worse as the years go on, meaning that Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. During the early stages, memory loss is mild and not necessarily life changing. However, during the late stages, individuals lose most of their memories, cannot carry on conversations, and have trouble responding to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth most leading cause of death in the United States and most people only live around eight years past the point where their symptoms become recognizable to the people around them.
There are mild, moderate, and severe cases of Alzheimer’s. Depending on the stage of the disease, the symptoms vary. The National Institute of aging explained the symptoms for each stage. We have borrowed their words below…
- wandering and getting lost
- trouble handling money and paying bills
- repeating questions
- taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- losing things or misplacing them in odd places
- personality and behavior changes
Alzheimer’s disease is often diagnosed at this stage.
- increased memory loss and confusion
- problems recognizing family and friends
- inability to learn new things
- difficulty carrying out multistep tasks such as getting dressed
- problems coping with new situations
- hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
- impulsive behavior
- inability to communicate
- weight loss
- skin infections
- difficulty swallowing
- groaning, moaning, or grunting
- increased sleeping
- lack of control of bowel and bladder
Alzheimer’s is caused by brain cell death. It is a neurodegenerative disease. This means that there is a progressive brain cell death that happens typically over a slow amount of time. The total brain size actually shrinks, leaving the tissue with progressively fewer connections and nerve cells. It’s quite morbid when you think about it. This disease leaves people feeling helpless and as of right now, there is no cure. But what if there a possible cure on the horizon? What if we could see the light at the end of the tunnel for Alzheimer’s disease?
Can Light Therapy Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been conducting experiments on mice that are leading them to believe that light therapy can actually bring back memories in people suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Although this is currently just a proof of concept, the world of possibilities that can follow are endless. This is notable, important, and life changing.
The scientists at MIT have successfully activated feelings from lost memories among mice with the use of light stimulation therapy that was developed in 2012. These mice are genetically engineered to have early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. This form of therapy is referred to as optogenetics and although it can currently only be performed on mice, these studies show extreme promise for the future.
How It Works…
Fox News’ health department covered this remarkable story on March 18, 2016. They explained how the light therapy process works by stating,
“Study authors put healthy mice and mice with Alzheimer’s into a chamber where they received a foot shock, an experience that caused them to sense fear one hour later when placed in the chamber again. But when the two groups of mice were placed in the chamber a few days later, only the normal mice were fearful, while the Alzheimer’s mice appeared to have forgotten about the experience. However, the memory of the fear was still there among the Alzheimer’s mice; the memory just couldn’t be activated with natural cues.
By using the light therapy they developed in 2012— whereby the relevant engram cells were tagged with a light-sensitive protein then activated with light— the researchers activated those memories.
“Directly activating the cells that we believe are holding the memory gets them to retrieve it,” lead study author Dheeraj Roy, an MIT graduate student, said in the release. “This suggests that it is indeed an access problem to the information, not that they’re unable to learn or store this memory.”
Study authors also identified that the engram cells of the Alzheimer’s mice experienced disrupted signaling from other neurons, which affected the natural cue that should have reactivated their memory.
“If we want to recall a memory, the memory-holding cells have to be reactivated by the correct cue,” Tonegawa said in the release. “If the spine density does not go up during learning process, then later, if you give a natural recall cue, it may not be able to reach the nucleus of the engram cells.”’
A Game Changer…
Conducting optogenics on people at the stage that it is at is far too invasive and it requires extreme precision. However, knowing what we know now and carrying this research into all future Alzheimer’s experiments is a complete game changer. Far too many individuals suffer from this severe, heartbreaking and devastating disease each year. Seeing a light at the end of the tunnel is the first step to success.