Neurodegenerative Diseases in the Elderly -
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Neurodegenerative Diseases in the Elderly


Medical terms can be confusing but a single word can say a lot. Neurodegenerative diseases are a set of disorders where there is degeneration of the nerve structures. These diseases are more likely to occur as you grow older although it can affect any age group. Understanding what neurodegenerative diseases are, how it develops and what it can mean in terms of quality of life is therefore important. Greater awareness can help you take measures to prevent it, minimize the risks and seek early treatment once a neurodegenerative disease arises.

What is neurodegeneration?

Neurodegeneration means that your nerves are either not functioning normally and/or have undergone some abnormal changes that are impairing its normal activity. It can also include death of the nerves. In terms of neurodegenerative diseases, these changes in the nerves tend to occur gradually and are usually irreversible. Nerve damage that occurs with injury is not a neurodegenerative diseases. The severity of neurodegeneratives diseases vary but tends to adversely affect the quality of life in almost every instance. In order to understand why neurodegeneration is so debilitating, it is important to first know how a nerve works.

Nerves are the communication channels of the body similar to telephone lines. Messages are sent back and forth through the nerves. These messages are electrical in nature and known as nerve impulses. There are two major types of nerves in the body – sensory nerves and motor nerves. A sensory nerve relays information from a part of the body to the brain. For example, when you feel pain at the tip of your finger, the pain receptor transmits the signal via nerves to the brain. Motor nerves control parts of the body by causing muscles to contract. It carries impulses from the brain and spinal cord to specific muscles. Mixed nerves can carry both sensory and motor nerve fibers.

How does neurodegenerative diseases occur?

The way in which a neurodegenerative disease develops can vary. In some conditions the insulating sheath (myelin sheath) around the nerve is lost. In other instances the nerve produces less neurotransmitters. Sometimes the nerve cell (neuron) may die. As neurons cannot replicate, once these cells are dysfunctional beyond repair or lost then there is a gradual decline in the integrity of the nervous system. This means that a person may not be able to feel as they normally would, the muscle cannot work properly and since the brain is a massive collection of nerves, memory, the ability to think and the coordination of different processes are therefore affected.

Common Neurodegenerative Diseases

There are number of different neurodegenerative diseases and most people have never heard of these conditions until somebody they know develops it. However, some of the common neurodegenerative diseases have become fairly well known in recent years. The major neurodegenerative diseases that seniors should be aware of includes:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Although these diseases have always plagued mankind, it seems the prevalence is on the rise globally. The exact cause of most neurodegerenative diseases remains unknown but there seems to be a strong genetic component in most cases. The role of the immune system in damaging and even destroying the nerve cells may also be another important mechanism that contributes to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

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