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Amyotrophic Lateralizing Sclerosis

Did you wake up this morning with part of your brain missing?

Growing old is all about losing things. Your teeth, your hair -- your good looks. But once Alzheimer's Disease begins stealing bits of your cognitive skills and the memories that tie you to friends and family -- your world dwindles day by day until you're dumber than the rubber tree in lobby of your nursing home. CT-Scans show progressive atrophy of your brain as neurons are replaced by functionless protein slush. You could be blissfully unaware of your mental deterioration as the flame of your personality flickers down to an ember, but it's vividly obvious to relatives who secretly wonder if they will someday suffer the same fate.

Some forms of early-onset Alzheimer's (below the age of 60) run in families, but you might be reassured to hear that 95% of Alzheimer's cases do not have a strong genetic link. The risk increases with age, with half of 85-year-olds carrying the diagnosis. But don't blow a gasket just because you forgot the name of an old friend or misplaced your car keys. It's normal for cognitive function to slow with age -- possibly because of the effort required to sift through a lifetime of experiences that have probably left you wiser and more cautious.

Skittish about getting tested? Although limited in effectiveness, drugs like Namenda, Exelon and Aricept may slow neurodegeneration. Remember also that Alzheimer's is actually two diseases -- the dementia that affects your brain, and the stress and depression inflicted on the caregiver that must bear the responsibility of your care for a decade or more. Plan for the future to ensure that your final years can be peaceful ones for you and your loved ones.

Alzheimer's may leave you puzzled and upset, but at lease you will have plenty of time to get used to it. You may look at family albums and wonder who the hell those people are, but you can still chuckle about something funny on TV -- even if you saw the same program yesterday. And if the fear demons come to gnaw at you during sleepless nights, reflect on this -- it's a mostly painless way to go. Every creature that has ever lived on Earth was born under a death sentence. For Alzheimer's patients, a slow end comes to the mind before the body. There's plenty of misery for those that have it the other way around.

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