Caused by progressive memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, which is World Day on Wednesday, affects more than 30 million people worldwide and remains without a cure.
First described in 1906 by the German doctor Alois Alzheimer, this “neurodegenerative” disease causes a progressive deterioration of cognitive abilities, leading to the patient’s loss of autonomy.
Symptoms include repeated forgetfulness, problems with orientation, impairment of executive function – planning, organizing, timing, abstract thoughts – or language impairment.
In Switzerland alone, Alzheimer’s affects 150,000 people and at least 32,000 new cases are recorded every year.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 55 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease: the latter represents 60 to 70% of cases, or more than 30 million. patients.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of victims is expected to triple by 2050, due to an increase in cases in low- and middle-income countries.
>> read: By 2050, Alzheimer’s cases may double and pose a management challenge
This outbreak will further increase the already heavy social burden of this disease, on loved ones and health systems. Already today, Alzheimer’s and dementia are one of the leading causes of disability and dependency in the elderly.
>> Listen to the testimony of Pascal, who stopped his work for seven years to help his wife on a daily basis:
The exact causes and mechanisms are unknown
Alzheimer’s disease may be the most common dementia, but its exact causes and mechanisms are still largely unknown.
>> read: Gilles Alal: “Alzheimer’s disease begins its damage 10-15 years before diagnosis”
Two phenomena occur systematically in Alzheimer’s patients. On the one hand, the formation of so-called amyloid protein plaques that suffocate neurons and eventually destroy them. On the other hand, another type of protein called tau, which is present in neurons, forms clusters in patients that also cause the affected cells to die.
But it is not yet clear how these two phenomena are related. It is also largely unknown what causes them to appear and how much they explain the course of the disease.
>> Listen to CQFD with the views of Gilles Allal, Director of the Leenards Memory Center at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV):
The long-dominant assumption that the formation of amyloid plaques is a systematic causative factor rather than the result of other mechanisms is increasingly being questioned.
This is largely due to the difficulty of discovering the causes of this disease: despite decades of research, no treatment today can cure or even prevent the onset of the disease (read in the frame).
A major advance in the past 20 years, a treatment from the American laboratory Biogen, which targets amyloid proteins, has received some results and has been approved for certain cases by the American authorities. But its effect is limited and its therapeutic interest is being discussed.
Age and concomitant diseases
According to the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm), the main risk factor in France is age: the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases after the age of 65 and explodes after the age of 80.
Cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes or hypertension, when left untreated in middle age, are also associated with a higher incidence of the disease, although we do not yet know by what mechanisms.
Physical inactivity is another risk factor, as are cranial microtraumas that have been reported in certain athletes, such as people who play rugby or train in boxing.
>> read: Excess weight contributes to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease
On the contrary, the fact of studying and stimulating professional activities and an active social life seems to delay the first symptoms and their severity.
Under these conditions, the brain will benefit from a “cognitive reserve”, which makes it possible to compensate for the function of the lost neurons, at least for a while. This effect would be related to cerebral plasticity, namely the ability of our brain to adapt.
>> Listen to “Switzerland’s first non-medical home dedicated to early Alzheimer’s cases to open in 2023 in Geneva”:
>> Useful link:Swiss Association for Alzheimer Research (APRA)
>> read: When you discover you have a taboo disease: Alzheimer’s
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