There’s no point sugar-coating it: there are few illnesses as tough as Alzheimer’s. It’s a degenerative illness for which even now there is no cure. When it appears, it turns the lives of those who live with it upside down, both patients and care givers. If you have just been diagnosed with it, or someone close to you has been diagnosed with it, you’ll surely feel confused, sad and worried. It’s normal: you can never be ready for something like this. But there is something you can do. Firstly: find out about what Alzheimer’s actually is. The following is a glossary of 20 terms about Alzheimer’s you need to know.
Acetylcholine (Ach): A neurotransmitter which is essential in the functioning of the brain, with a key role in processing information and communication within the brain. Among people with Alzheimer’s, the concentration of this neurotransmitter progressively reduces.
Cholinergic system: The brain’s pathways related to thinking, learning and memory processes. The cholinergic system is formed by the cholinergic neurons which use acetylcholine neurotransmitters. When the pathways don’t work, basic communications between one area of the brain and another are altered.
Acetylcholinesterase (AchE): The enzyme responsible for the metabolism (processing) of acetylcholine in the brain. In people with Alzheimer’s, the cholinergic system is altered, although the causes are not clear.
Alzheimer’s: A neurodegenerative illness which affects behavior, intellect and the ability to carry out daily tasks, up to the point of causing a total loss of autonomy in those who live with it.
Aphasia: The concept of aphasia refers to problems with language. It’s commonly seen in people with Alzheimer’s, who at a certain point find it difficult to speak and be understood.
Anomia: The incapacity to recall or find the word which describes a specific object. It’s a common form of aphasia, and is very frequent in people with Alzheimer’s.
Apraxia: This is a cognitive problem which shows itself in difficulties carrying out physical movements.
Caregiver: We call the person responsible for the care of a person who has an illness their caregiver. Generally, it is usually a relative, although it’s sometimes a specialized professional.
Cholinesterase inhibitors: The drugs indicated for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. They are deliberately designed to act on the enzymes which, in turn, metabolize the acetylcholine neurotransmitters in the brain.
Cognitive stimulation: With this we refer to the set of techniques which are intended to develop the cognitive functions of the individual. In certain neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s, this type of stimulation aims to minimize the deterioration of these cognitive functions.
Dementia: The loss of intellectual or cognitive ability without an alteration of perception or consciousness. It is usually a progressive process which causes disorders in memory, orientation, intellectual ability and reason.
Dysgraphia: The incapacity to write, even before the motor system has lost its abilities.
Dysphagia: Difficulty in making the movements necessary to swallow. It usually happens in the final stage of Alzheimer’s.
Intellect: This is the way we refer to the intellectual function or mental process which has to do with the recognition of objects, thought or perception. It comprises all the aspects of thought, learning and memory.
Nerve cells: Also known as neurons, nerve cells are a kind of cells in the nervous system that specialize in receiving stimuli and the management of the nervous system, either with other neurons or with other types of cells.
Neuro-psychological evaluation: The way of measuring, through tests certain capabilities, such as memory, attention, language, visuospatial abilities, problem solving and other mental abilities. Only a qualified neuro-psychologist can perform it.
Neurofibrillary tangles: The accumulation of degenerated nerve cells located in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s.
Neurology: Medical specialization which deals with disorders in the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Neurotransmitters: The chemicals in the brain which facilitate the transmission of messages between nerve cells (neurons).
Senile plaques: Together with neurofibrillary tangles, they constitute the typical microscopic lesions of Alzheimer’s.
Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist
Last Modification: April 12, 2017
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