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PUBLISHED: 2:03 PM on Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Alzheimer's Disease remains a mystery to many

Advances in medicine continue to aid Americans facing difficult battles with life-threatening or crippling diseases. However, only minimal advances have taken place with respect to a disease many Americans rightly fear -- Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer's typically affects people over the age of 65 and robs those afflicted of much of their cognitive capacity, while greatly reducing their quality of life.

As widely known and as feared as the disease is, there still exists a mountain of misinformation with respect to the causes and effects of Alzheimer's. With that in mind, here is a list of some myths and facts about the disease, along with some helpful hints in dealing with Alzheimer's.

* Perhaps the most common myth about Alzheimer's is that it isn't really a disease, just a telltale and natural sign of old age. When most people think of Alzheimer's Disease, they immediately think of memory loss or senility. That association causes many to rank Alzheimer's as a low priority in relation to other diseases.

But Alzheimer's affects more than just memory. A form of dementia, Alzheimer's negative side effects include causing changes in the brain, often leading to drastic swings in mood and behavior as well as memory loss. The brain cells affected by Alzheimer's are called neurons, which send messages to one another and are responsible for functions such as speaking, thinking and memory. These functions are disrupted with the formation of plaques or tangles -- deposits that disrupt the flow of the messages being sent by neurons. While it is common for these deposits to form as people get older, in Alzheimer's patients. These deposits far outnumber those formed in a typical person's brain, making it far more difficult to speak or think or remember.

* Another myth associated with Alzheimer's is that, while unfortunate, the disease is not fatal. Sadly, the destruction of the brain cells that characterizes Alzheimer's does not stop at the neurons. While the onset of Alzheimer's begins with a destruction of the brain cells responsible for functions such as memory, soon that destruction spreads to other parts of the brain as well, leading to system shutdowns in other parts of a patient's body, such as organ failure. These "shut downs" may not readily be linked to Alzheimer's because oftentimes they are symptomatic of other diseases common with the elderly.

* A number of studies conducted with regards to the effects aluminum has on contracting Alzheimer's offer frightening observations on the metal's influence, while other studies are skeptical as to the metal having any effect at all. As mentioned earlier, the more plaques that form in a person's brain, the more severe his or her Alzheimer's can be. Certain studies have shown that, upon chemical analysis, aluminum is at the core of these plaques and is even present within many cells in the plaques.

Further evidence also suggests that aluminum may play a role in the plaques' very formation, a significant development, considering the exact cause of Alzheimer's remains unknown.

What makes these developments so difficult to swallow is the frequency with which many people ingest or inhale aluminum without even knowing it. Pots and pans and soda cans are just small examples of the seemingly everyday contact most people have with aluminum (though many aluminum cans are coated with polymers as a safety precaution). Aluminum is also an ingredient in many antiperspirant/deodorant products used to control odor and wetness. And, as the third most common element in the earth's crust, aluminum is seemingly unavoidable.

While the impact of aluminum on contracting Alzheimer's is yet to be clearly defined, using glass or porcelain pots and pans and avoiding cosmetics or medicines which contain aluminum are some easy, and potentially lifesaving, precautions to take.

To learn more about Alzheimer's Disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association Web site at www.alz.org.

There, you can learn about the current research projects being conducted, seek answers to any other questions you may have, and also learn the various ways you can play a role in combatting this often devastating disease.


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