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Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative condition of the brain. It is characterized by a progression of brain damage. Neuron death is presaged by plaques and tangles. The tangles were specifically noticed by Dr. Alzheimer. The degeneration of skills and abilities is nearly the reverse order of the development of skills and abilities in early life. For example in the early stages of the disease, damage is localized in the limbic system, and the parietal and temporal lobes. This damage to the limbic system is characterized by a loss of memory and a degradation of the ability to ameloriate emotional states. In the parietal lobe the damage is reflected by a lessening of the perception of spatial relationships, processing of sensory information and the ability to concentrate. Temporal lobe damage is evidenced by loss of speech and the ability to manipulate language.
The loss of emotional control can be just as easily a side effect of the disease as a symptom. Often the sufferer has retained some mental facility that allows the capacity to recognize that something is wrong but not allow any ability to know what to do. The knowledge that something is wrong with one’s mind and to be unable to do anything about it must be the most frustrating thing that a human can experience. Living with constant frustration will bring about erratic behavior in nearly anyone.
Safety can be nearly as major a consideration as it is with toddlers as conceptual considerations of recognizing and avoiding danger may be compromized. Indeed if the disease is accompanied by bone porosity the the sufferer of Alzheimer’s can be more prone to damage even if slightly less prone to accident.
The middle stage wherein occipital damage occurs is one that brings about a loss of the ability to process visual information. Blindness will not occur until death is near but the significance of visual information will become more and more mysterious to the person afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
In the middle stages, motor cortex damage starts. This damage results in a loss of motor function. The sufferer can become clumsy and uncoordinated from this damage. Coupled with the degradation of judgement in the opening stages makes the persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s accident prone. They must be monitored carefully to preserve their safety. Occipital lobe damage increases as this is a progressive disease. This increase manifests itself with a greater loss of visual impairment. The middle stages are also characterized by the damage to limbic system becoming complete. The concomitant destruction of the hypothalamas which controls appetite, temperature and thirst degrades the afflictee’s capacity for self-maintainence.
As the middle stages progress, more visual cortex damage, accompanied by the beginning prefrontal area damage, motor planning problems are evident. Since motor control is already affected, the loss of motor planning is all the more pronounced. When frontal lobe damage reveals itself as a loss of thought formation, action planning and the ability to follow through become reduced. When all the losses combine, the loss of each function in the chain is exacerbated.
All of these losses would combine to make the individual nearly incompentent, but it is not destined to last because the next stage in the progressive decline of the individual is subcortical damage and damage to the cerebellum. As the function of the cerebellum is associated with the functions of the medulla and the pons, vital involuntary body systems begin to shut down, sensory areas continue to be affected, involuntary body systems fail. The heart, lungs diaphram, digestive system and some co-ordination and balance function are all affected. When this happens, the body begins to shut down, and death is not far off.
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About the Author
Merle E Ackeret
APA affiliate B. S. Psy CCU Delta Episilon Tau Gamma of California AGS, AAOT Linn-Benton C. C. Phi Theta Kappa Alpha Tau Upsilon chapter nat
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