“Alzheimer’s sucks.” These words posted in June on Facebook by a seminary professor express everyone’s feelings about this terrible disease. It has been called “the long good-bye,” and devastates those who suffer from it as well as all the people around them.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a form of dementia that worsens over time, affecting memory, thinking and behavior. The earliest symptoms are forgetfulness, followed by difficulty performing tasks that used to be easy, language problems, getting lost, and sometimes personality changes. Later stages can include depression, forgetting personal history, not recognizing friends and family, and physical difficulties. A German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer, first described the disease in 1906. Prior to Dr. Alzheimer, the disease was not distinguished from other types of dementia among elderly people.
Causes and progression
Early onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) begins prior to age 60. It is less common and has been linked to family genetics. Late onset AD may run in families, but the genetic link is less clear. Skilled diagnosticians can determine if someone has Alzheimer’s, but the only sure way of telling is by examining brain tissue after death.
Other than some genetic predisposition for AD, there are few identified risk factors. However, statistics suggest that females are at higher risk than males. A history of head trauma is also a higher risk factor. And, cardiovascular disease has been associated with a higher risk. These include high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
The causes and progression of AD are still not well understood. It is estimated by 2050, one in 85 people will suffer from AD. In 2006, there were 26.6 million people worldwide with Alzheimer’s. It is a major public health concern that will not decrease without new treatments that can delay the onset, slow the progression or reverse the disease. Anything that can help with early detection and treatment is extremely important.
Prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease are high on the list of research goals. The National Institutes of Health, the largest source of biomedical research funding in the world, expects to spend about $500 million on Alzheimer’s research this year. This includes a $50 million increase announced by President Barack Obama in February.
Researching the role of inflammation
Scientists are looking closely at the role of inflammation in AD. Perhaps, they hypothesize, inflammation elsewhere in the body might increase the level of inflammation within the brain, leading to the onset or progression of AD.
Dental science is at the forefront of this research, as scientists investigate the inflammation from oral disease, especially periodontitis, as a risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Several other debilitating diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease have been associated with oral disease, periodontitis, and chronic inflammation.
One study among identical twins showed that tooth loss—often caused by periodontitis—increased the risk for AD. This suggests that oral disease might significantly impact the incidence and prevalence of AD. It is not clear whether oral infection and inflammation are causes AD or just factors that contribute to the disease and its progression.
Controlling oral disease
The research connecting oral disease, including periodontitis, with inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to accumulate. In the ongoing, desperate fight against AD, one battlefront is controlling oral disease and inflammation.
While scientists connect the dots between oral disease, inflammation and AD, consumers can take the steps of maximizing their oral health. Daily brushing and flossing along with regular dental visits are the first line of attack against oral disease including periodontitis. Adding topical oral antioxidants, such as PerioSciences AO ProVantage dental gel and AO ProRinse mouthwash, can complete the oral care regimen. These products work synergistically with naturally occurring salivary antioxidants to freshen breath while soothing soft tissue in the oral cavity. The result is improved appearance of tissue and a pleasant, fresh feeling in the mouth.