So much is unknown about Alzheimer’s disease and similar forms of dementia, especially because we only see the end results, not why, how, or when it may start. Many employees at Above and Beyond Home Health Care are also baffled about these types of dementias, so we collectively try to stay informed on much of the current research and theories.
After all, the more we know about what could be happening inside a patient’s brain and body, the better care we can provide to them, and the more we can share any information and care suggestions with their family members and loved ones. While a cure hasn’t been found yet, we support efforts to find what could cause these terrible diseases.
For instance, many of us are familiar with what happens as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, such as conditions such as confusion or short-term memory loss. Some more advanced cases can even forget some basic functions.
But what’s less familiar is how, where, when and why the symptoms start. Some theorize that Alzheimer’s disease can be triggered by the brain no longer accepting glucose from the nervous system. This essentially starves the brain, shrinking some tissue and growing others.
Oral Health And Alzheimer’s
Another theory that is being looked into is the role of oral health in Alzheimer’s disease. Various international studies over the years have tried to see if there is a connection between poor oral health, which can lead to gum disease and greater risks of infection and inflammation and more dangerous micro-organisms potentially damaging the rest of the body.
One of these was a paper published in the North American Journal of Medical Science in 2015, which offered the theory that periodontal disease can increase Alzheimer’s risk. This is because bacteria in dental plaque can enter the bloodstream and somehow make it past the blood-brain barrier. This can potentially do damage to the brain and cause dangerous inflammation to the rest of the body.
But anti-inflammatory drugs may be able to reduce this type of contamination, the paper suggests.
Further research in that line continued in 2017, in a dementia study that took place in Taiwan. The study found that people who had chronic periodontal disease for at least 10 years had a 70 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those with better oral health.
Although the results were interesting, many medical personnel declared the scale of the study was too small to draw large-scale conclusions, since there were only about 300 patients who took part. There were also some procedural questions like whether those with gum disease took any efforts to improve or manage it. Many researchers felt that even though the study had its structural flaws, any effort to get people to improve their dental care is an improvement.
Studies of possible connections between poor oral health and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease have continued.
A study in Great Britain looked at samples of brain tissue of 10 people with dementia and 10 people without it. Observers found a bacteria typically found in gum disease in four of the 10 samples with dementia, and none in the samples of those who didn’t have dementia.
Another study released in 2017 as an open-access review paper shared the theory that certain microbes found in periodontal disease can cause inflammation and other disruptions in the brain that can contribute to the growth of the dangerous proteins found in Alzheimer’s patients.
More peer research along these lines will continue, but the theory may have some possible benefits.
First, as in other theories, anything that takes us closer to finding what happens and why in Alzheimer’s disease is valuable. Dentists have been spreading the message of “brush better to reduce infection” for years, hoping that better hygiene will result in less gum disease and overall inflammation.
The second possible positive is that if these microorganisms can cause this type of damage once they’re inside the bloodstream, then something as basic and as simple as an antibiotic could be used to destroy this infection, and thereby decrease the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms appearing.
Home Healthcare Can Help
What does this mean in a home health care or a hospice environment, especially if someone has Alzheimer’s disease or certain dementias? A lot of teeth-brushing to start with. If a patient is able to still brush and floss on their own, encourage them to do so on a regular basis, at least twice a day.
If they are unable to because of physical conditions or dementias, a caregiver or a home health professional may perform this task.
Even in hospice situations, good oral care doesn’t need to stop or slow down. In fact, a patient toward the end of his or her life may actually be producing more microorganisms in their mouth, often due to various medications or remedies for dry mouth or sores.
A patient also may enjoy the routine of nightly and daily brushing, especially if they’ve kept to this schedule most of their life.
Overall, the staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care will be happy to discuss oral health needs with a patient and their family.