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Exploring family health
Exploring family health

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4.1 Alzheimer’s disease

Activity 5: What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Read the four paragraphs in the box below (What is Alzheimer’s disease?). You may need to read them more than once to develop your understanding.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Paragraph 1 Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and usually occurs most in people over 65 years old. Dementia is described as the loss of brain function, and symptoms can include memory loss, confusion, personality changes and problems with speech. People in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease may find it difficult to perform the everyday tasks most of us take for granted, and they may no longer recognise their family members or their surroundings. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged, and as the brain declines, the symptoms become more severe.

Paragraph 2 The disease was discovered in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer. He studied the brain tissue of a woman with dementia and discovered two microscopic abnormal protein structures in the form of plaques and tangled fibres. Since that time, knowledge and understanding of the disease has gradually developed. It is thought that the plaques and tangled fibres block the transport of vital nutrients to the brain cells so neurons (nerves) become damaged and can no longer transmit messages effectively, interfering with brain function.

Paragraph 3 It is likely that the disease is caused by a number of factors rather than a single factor and researchers have explored, for example, the possible role of toxins such as aluminium, and excessive dietary intake of saturated fats, calories and alcohol. A strong case is also building for genetic inheritance of the disease in addition to environmental or lifestyle factors. Twice as many women as men are affected by the disease, which suggests a possible link with female hormones. Indeed, scientists have demonstrated that the female hormone oestrogen has a protective effect on the brain. It is thought that after the menopause, when oestrogen levels fall, women are more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Paragraph 4 Research continues into an effective treatment to alleviate or reduce the damaging effects of this disease. Various treatments and preventive measures are being investigated, including the use of hormone replacement therapy, vaccines and substances that aim to break down the protein deposits in the brain.

Now, using the labels below, identify the main focus of each paragraph.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Description

  2. Discovery and key features

  3. Causes

  4. Treatment

  • a.Paragraph 4

  • b.Paragraph 1

  • c.Paragraph 2

  • d.Paragraph 3

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = c
  • 3 = d
  • 4 = a

Although Alzheimer’s has terrible effects on the sufferer, a carer’s life is also severely affected. The pressure of providing care at the level needed by people with Alzheimer’s can disrupt the carer’s life in profound ways. It is not only adults who are carers – children can also find themselves in situations where they are caring for an ill or disabled parent or sibling.