Witnessing a loved one succumb to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of the most difficult experiences a person has to deal with. Signs of the disease appear slowly at first. The affected individual may forget a word or misplace an object, which is something that happens to everyone from time to time. But then it gets more serious. The person slowly becomes more forgetful, repeatedly asking the same questions and losing the ability to retain names of people they just met. Toward the end of the disease’s cycle, a person with AD can lose track of where they are and who they are, and basic abilities such as eating, walking, and toileting fade.
Although the cause of AD remains unknown, groundbreaking discoveries that provide valuable insight into the condition are being made every day. Studies have uncovered that AD may have an infectious etiology, or at least that infection with certain microbial organisms may increase the risk of developing the neurological disorder.
Most recently, researchers have found a link between AD and a fungus in the brains of patients diagnosed with the disease. In this new study, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, researchers compared the brains of people with AD to the brains of people without the disease. Cells and other material from different fungal species were found in brain tissue and blood vessels of all 11 deceased patients with AD studied but not in the 10 subjects in the control group.
Although the discovery is significant to the medical community, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that the fungus causes the disease, or if the presence of AD simply increases the risk of this type of fungal infection.
“There is still much research to be done in order to truly understand the causes of dementia,” said Dr. Clare Walton, Research Manager at the Alzheimer’s Society. “As it is a progressive, long-term condition, it can take many years before symptoms appear and so it is hard to determine the initial cause based on samples taken after death.”
Clinical trials will be necessary for more conclusive results.
AD is the most common form of dementia, affecting nearly 50 million people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, about 7.7 million new cases of the disease appear each year, and the risk of getting AD doubles every 5 years after age 65.
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