Neurodegenerative Diseases: Characteristics, Cures, and Prevention
Neurodegenerative diseases- What are they? Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by damage to the nervous system, causing cognitive decline and changes in brain functions and how the body behaves. We’ll cover topics related to neurodegenerative diseases, what they are, their characteristics, symptoms, possible cures, and other interesting topics.
These kinds of diseases, as its name suggests, causes the degeneration (death) of neurons in the brain, which affects nerve tissue and causes different neuropsychological manifestations as well, which may present themselves in a variety of ways depending on the type of disease. While there are a number of different types of neurodegenerative diseases, we will focus on the following:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Huntington’s Disease
What causes these diseases to appear? The cause of neurodegenerative diseases is currently unknown, but genetic and environmental factors have been shown to play a role in their development. One major risk factor that is common between all types of neurodegenerative disease is age. Most of these diseases will appear in older adults.
Types of neurodegenerative diseases and how they manifest themselves
- Alzheimer’s Disease: The Alzheimer’s Association says that this neurodegenerative disease is a brain disease that causes the progressive loss of memory and thought. This memory loss is severe enough to cause those who suffer to affect their daily life and make it nearly impossible to continue to live as they had. Among its most common symptoms are: memory problems that affect daily life, difficulty making plans or problem solving, limitations when it comes to completing tasks or projects that require previous planning, written and spoken language difficulties, and changes in the patient’s personality. Below you will see a video of a real Alzheimer’s case, which will help you understand come of the symptoms that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and some of the limitations that it puts on the patient. There are cognitive assessments available to help detect the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s and serve as part of a diagnosis.
- Parkinson’s Disease: According to the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Cardiovascular Incidents this disease is characterized by the rapid deterioration of nerve cells. While symptoms may vary between Parkinson’s patients, some of the most common symptoms are the following: tremors in the extremities which disappear when sleeping, muscle stiffness making the muscles contract and tense, bradykinesia (slow movements), which affects daily activities like showering, getting dressed, etc. People with Parkinson’s may also experience stability problems, which may lead them to have accidents and fall.
- Multiple Sclerosis: MS affects the Central Nervous System (CNS) and can manifest itself in a number of ways. Some of the most common symptoms are: fatigue, pain, tremors, loss of balance, speech difficulties, etc. There are different types of MS, so the patient’s doctor will make a specific diagnosis depending on the symptoms they present. The most common type of MS is Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).
Is there a cure for neurodegenerative diseases?
Dr. Prusiner points out the importance of continuous research to find the cure for these kinds of diseases. The importance lies in the high percentage of people who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases and in the likelihood that as life expectancy increases, so will the number of people who suffer from them. The most common neurodegenerative diseases are currently Parkinson’s, MS, and Alzheimer’s, all of which affect cognitive ability.
Dr. Prusiner believes that it will be a long time before we have a cure for all of these diseases, but the continuous research has already led to findings that help researchers understand the complexity of such diseases. It seems that they are all of these neurodegenerative diseases have a common factor: a deficiency in how the body processes proteins, but in each disease the proteins are processed differently.
Research has made strides in the diagnosis of some neurological diseases, which has made it possible for professionals to apply these methods to neurodegenerative diseases as well. MRI and fMRI machines are a few of the technologies that we have available to us that help detect such diseases early on.
There is still not a cure for any of these diseases, but continued research is the best chance that the scientific community has at finding one. They are complex diseases, which is one of the reasons why it has been the focus of many scientists’ research.
How to prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases
Below we will show you some ideas to help prevent or delay the symptoms of these types of diseases. It’s important to talk about cognitive reserve when talking about how to prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
- Parkinson’s- A number of studies have shown that physical exercise can help prevent this disease. Exercise of any type can help, whether it be running, walking, working out, or playing sports. Physical therapy can also be a good way to help with balance and resistance. It’s also been shown that Parkinson’s patients have improved with dance, by not only helping to improve fatigue, but it also helps with social relations and self-esteem.
- Alzheimer’s– There are a number of support systems and activities in place for Alzheimer’s patients. Some of these activities are: activities that the patient enjoys, behavioral interventions (for aggression, sleep disorders, eating problems, etc.), coordination between health professionals, and a huge amount of information and cognitive rehabilitation programs for Alzheimer’s patients.
- Multiple Sclerosis– Some factors that may lead to this disease are a genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Recent research has also made it possible to detect this disease through analysis. It seems that people with this disorder have an antibody in their blood that those without the disease don’t have. With this information, researchers are able to uncover more information about MS and work towards figuring out its true origin. Some ideas to help MS patients are the following: talk to a doctor about pain related to the disease, stay away from tobacco, and take periodic breaks when exercising. It’s also advisable to go to a rehab clinic and work with a physical therapist.
Questions? Feel free to leave me a comment.
This article was originally written in Spanish by Noelia Chaves Castaño.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.