This past year one of my good childhood friends lost his 61 year old mother to Alzheimer’s. His mom was an amazing woman who was loved by many, the full house, and memories shared at the church during her celebration of life confirmed that. Her smile, and enthusiasm is the memory I’m left with and I wanted to write this blog in honor of her.
In 1983 President Ronald Reagan designated November as Alzheimer’s awareness month. At that time there were less than two million people with the disease, now there are more than five million. Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells and causes memory loss, erratic behaviors, and loss of bodily functions. People can be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as young as their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s, which is known as younger-onset Alzheimer’s. This disease slowly and painfully takes away one’s identity, ability to connect with others, think, eat, talk, walk or even find their way home. This devastating disease is fatal, as there is no current treatment to cure, delay, or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. There are some FDA approved drugs that temporarily slow down worsening symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, but this is only successful in about half the individuals who take them (1).
Alzheimer’s disease is difficult on the patient, as well as their families. A few helpful tips for you and your loved ones are;
1. Keep a daily routine
2. Don’t over stimulate them
3. Be Reassuring
4. Try not to yell or argue
5. Try to laugh and take the positive out of the most difficult times
6. Get involved in a family support group
As a hygienist I also wanted to include the following information as they are linking one’s oral hygiene to Alzheimer’s disease! There is still a lot of research to be done, but a study conducted by Dr. Singhrao in 2013 and 2014 showed that a bacterium known as Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) was present in Alzheimer’s brain samples, but not present in the samples of brain from non Alzheimer’s people. This was interesting because P. gingivalis is associated with chronic gum disease. The study that was conducted in 2013 was followed up by the same team in 2014 with a study using mice and the results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Singhrao, who conducted this study, said in his interview with Medical News Today that “there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that two of the three gum disease -causing bacteria are capable of motion (or “motile”) and have consistently been found in brain tissues (2).” These motile bacteria can leave the mouth and enter the brain via two main routes. The two possible roots are: they crawl up the nerves that connect to your brain and the roots of your teeth and the second is through your blood stream. The bacteria P. gingivalis enters your blood stream on a daily basis from eating, chewing, and tooth brushing but does not always reach the brain. If it does reach the brain, this bacterium can trigger the immune system response to release more chemicals to kill neurons (2). Dr. Singharo placed P. gingivalis in the mouths of mice and watched as the bacteria found its way to the brain. During the study Dr. Singharo observed that when the P. gingivalis found its way to the brain, the chemicals released by the brain’s immune system, in response to the P. gingivalis, damaged functional neurons on the area of the brain related to memory. Although, this research is still new and continues to be ongoing it gives another example of how your dental health is linked to your overall health, and reminds us about the importance of good daily oral hygiene and routine dental cleanings.
It’s important for all of us to keep fighting, and researching how we can cure this fatal disease. There is lots of research being done daily to help uncover as many aspects of Alzheimer’s disease as possible. The goal of all this research is to help better understand it, and its effects on the brain that will lead to new treatments. If you wish to donate or participate in one of their fundraising events visit their website www.alz.org for more information.
1) Alz.org (Alzheimer’s association)
2) Medical News Today / Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease