World Alzheimer's Day: Understanding children's Alzheimer’s

World Alzheimer’s Day: Understanding children’s Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is commonly defined as the loss of memory due to growing age. The disease is often regarded as old people’s disease as its symptoms first tend to appear usually in their mid-60s. Medically, Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive degeneration of memory and thinking ability. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.4 people across ages in the U.S. are living with the disease.

Although Alzheimer’s is prevalent among old people, many studies suggest the disease to occur in children as well. Known as Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC), it is a rare disease that affects one in 150,000 children and teenagers. The disease is similar to that of Alzheimer’s in adults as it causes quick and progressive deterioration of both physical and mental health in the child. Like Alzheimer’s disease, NPC also does not have any cure and eventually leads to death. Hence, it is known as “childhood’s Alzheimer’s.”

Understanding NPC

Despite its symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s, NPC is not connected with the elderly’s disease. Unlike Alzheimer’s, which causes dementia in a person thereby affecting the memory, thinking ability, reasoning and remembering capability, NPC is caused due to accumulation of excess of cholesterol in cells and tissues of the body. The accumulated lipids then further cause damage to cells and tissues of vital organs such as brain, peripheral nervous system, liver and bone marrow, which ultimately causes death over a period. Hence, NPC is called a lipid storage disease.

NPC often exhibits symptoms like Alzheimer’s disease because the collected lipids tend to disrupt the normal functioning, thereby causing effects, such as seizures, dementia, problem in speaking, eating or even swallowing. As per studies, NPC is a kind of inherited pediatric neurodegenerative disorder which causes progressive deterioration of the nervous system.

According to the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A, NPC starts affecting the children of age between 4 to 7 years. “The average age of diagnosis for NPC1 disease was 10.4 years, with one-half of patients being diagnosed before the age of 6.9 years. The average age of death for NPC1 disease was 16.2 years, with one-half of patients dying before the age of 12.5 years,” it says.

Treatment of NPC

Currently, there is no readily available test that could diagnose the disease successfully. However, the probable symptoms of the disease are confirmed by assaying cultured fibroblasts for cholesterol esterification and staining for unesterified cholesterol with filipin. During the test, the fibroblasts are cultured from the part of the skin taken from the patient during biopsy. The test is very specialized and are available only at selected labs.

Despite the confirmation of the disease, there is no FDA-standard proved treatment. However, a pediatric neurologist, Dr. Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is encouraging hopes by experimenting with a new drug cyclodextrin. As of now, the drug has been given to nearly 40 patients in the U.S. under the guidance of the doctor.

Besides, there are several supportive care and groups consisting of therapeutic team of neurologist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist, orthopedics, nutritionist, physical therapist and occupational therapist, which work to improve the quality of life of the affected children.

Way to recovery

There are no definite medicines to cure NPC. However, doctors tend to prescribe medications to treat the symptoms in isolation. The occurrence of NPC can be distressing to children as well as their parents. It is important to note that though in case NPC the child undergoes the fading quality of life due to impairments in cognitive abilities, the disease is not categorized under Alzheimer’s disease.

However, if your loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, or any other mental disorder, it is important to seek medical treatment. The California Mental Health Helpline can help you get relevant information on mental health treatment centers in California. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online to know more about the mental health rehabilitation centers in California. Our experts will help you to get in touch with one of the best mental health facilities in California.