Understanding Alzheimer's Disease
What Is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's Disease is a disease of the brain that damages memory, judgement, and motor skills.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, there are ways to reduce your risk and slow its development.
Introduction to Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia. A dementia is a term which describes a number of symptoms relating to the loss of mental ability. This can include difficulty with memory, judgement, and even motor skills.
There are multiple types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common. Alzheimer's disease makes up about two-thirds of all cases dementia. Other types of dementia can be caused by many factors, including head trauma, vitamin deficiency, and strokes.
While we know that Alzheimer's disease leads to the death of the brain's nerve cells, but we are not completely certain how the disease forms or what causes it. The brain lesions seen in Alzheimer's patients are not necessarily the cause of Alzheimer's, but rather a result of it.
While there is not yet a way to determine if someone will or will not develop Alzheimer's, several factors have been identified which effect how likely it is for one to develop the disease.
The Damaged Brain of An Alzheimer's Patient
Many of the Factors That Increase Your Risk of Alzheimer's are Modifiable.
Many factors contribute to the likelihood that an individual develops
Alzheimer's, many of these factors are directly related with brain health.
We discuss these risk factors and discuss what can be done to lower risk on our Alzheimer's Risk Factor Page.
Genetics Makes You More Vulnerable to Other Risk Factors.
The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease states that between half and four fifths of all cases of Alzheimer's can primarily be attributed to genetics. ApoE is the primary gene responsible for causing Alzheimer's.
Individuals with ApoE have a higher chance of developing Alzheimer's and are more vulnerable to the other factors which increase Alzheimer's risk and should
take proactive measures to manage their risk factors.
Individuals with a family history of Alzheimer's have a higher chance of carrying the ApoE gene and should consider genetic testing.
The Understanding of Alzheimer's is Not Complete.
The current scientific and medical body does not have a complete understanding of Alzheimer's or the human brain. Given the complexity of each, the tremendous amount progress we have made inspires hope for future developments.
With that being said, thousands of publications and research studies have been conducted on Alzheimer's and we have many strong theories with significant supporting evidence.
The leading theory on Alzheimer's focuses on two proteins, Amyloid & Tau. They both naturally occur in the human body and brain.
During Alzheimer's, Amyloid & Tau mutate and their mutated form causes damage to the brain cells. Researchers currently attribute the mental decline seen in Alzheimer's to the damage caused by Amyloid & Tau.
Amyloid Plaques (Click To Enlarge)
Amyloid Plaques Damage Brain Cells
Amyloid is a naturally occurring protein in the human body and brain. During Alzheimer's, normal Amyloid groups suffer from a structural change which disrupts normal functioning.
One abnormal amyloid group causes other healthy amyloid groups near it to also mutate, eventually they form large groups of amyloid deposits, called plaques or fibrils.
These plaques have a toxic affect on brain cells and cause the brain lesions characteristic of Alzheimer's. These plaques can be seen in the image above as the brown cloud-like substance damaging the neuron cells.
Tau Tangles (Click To Enlarge)
Tau Tangles Prevent Brain Cells From Communicating
Tau is another naturally occurring protein in the human body and brain. Its primary purpose in the brain is to stabilize the axons of brain cells. The axon is the part of the cell through which electrical signals travel.
In Alzheimer's disease, tau proteins suffer from a structural change which causes them to pair with other threads of tau. The tau, now tangled with other tau, is no longer able to stabilize the brain cell's axon; the axon subsequently unravels and ceases to exist.
While Alzheimer's is developed by almost 500,000 Americans a year, it is not considered a normal part of aging. Alzheimer's is considered one of the most common causes of death for Americans, accounting for more deaths than both breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
In the following pages we look at the groups most at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, the warning signs that may indicate Alzheimer’s, and your options for preventing, identifying, and treating Alzheimer’s.