Alzheimer's Disease
The popular press does not seem to know how to deal with Alzheimer's disease. They alternately make light of it by using jokes about "senior moments" and make it out to be a dark, terrible secret that traumatizes everyone who comes in contact with a sufferer.

The term Alzheimer's disease refers to a condition discovered by Lois Alzheimer, a doctor who practiced in the early 1900s. In 1907 he wrote in medical textbooks about a 51 year old woman who had died of dementia. He examined her brain under the microscope.

His examination revealed changes he had never seen before. In certain parts of the brain, fibres were tangled together, and in other areas he saw clumping of brain matter. As time went on, he discovered more "younger" people who had died of dementia had the same abnormalities in their brains. This condition came to be known as Alzheimer's disease.

Subsequently, researchers noted that the same type of dementia (with the same symptoms) occurred more frequently in older people. When their brains were examined under a microscope, they demonstrated the same abnormalities.

At that time, only younger people were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease as this was what Dr. Lois Alzheimer had concentrated on. Older people were generally diagnosed with pre-senile dementia or senile dementia of the Alzheimer type.

This differentiation made things unnecessarily complicated, however, and because dementia in younger people is rare, it is now common to refer to the whole group as Alzheimer's disease.

The term "Alzheimer's disease" does not clearly convey the complicated set of symptoms that make up this condition. A definition from the Royal College of Physicians describes Alzheimer's disease as:

"Dementia is the global impairment of higher functions, including memory, the capacity to solve the problems of day to day living, the performance of learned perceptual-motor skills, the correct use of social skills, and the control of emotional reactions in the absence of clouding of consciousness."

In the vernacular, a common description is "a living death." A more medical terminology describes it as "the slow onset of memory loss with a gradual progression to a loss of judgement and changes in behaviour and temperament." And it is the combination of factors that makes it so hard on family members. Any one symptom alone might be easy to handle, but the combination of memory loss with behavioral changes makes it tough. Some Alzheimer's disease sufferers get angry or belligerent towards family members, and may not recognize even their spouse of 50 years. The complicated nature of the symptoms speaks to the complicated nature of the disease itself, and thousands of researchers around the world are hoping that new research will shed more light on this disabling condition.