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How Alzheimer's Disease Impacts the Brain

November 26, 2019
Published in: Neurology

Senior couple walking on a gravel path

One condition becoming all too common today is Alzheimer’s disease, a brain condition that is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. The Alzheimer’s Association defines the disease as “a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.”

Alzheimer’s (also sometimes called senile dementia) doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, the symptoms may at first be dismissed as simply “getting older,” if doctors and family members aren’t vigilant. Early symptoms include relatively small issues like trouble learning new things or remembering details. Eventually, the symptoms grow to the point of inability to care for oneself or understand one’s surroundings. So, where does the brain with Alzheimer’s disease go wrong?

When Neurons Degrade

Previous brain injuries, an unhealthy lifestyle, or other medical conditions like heart disease can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Age is a primary contributor to the onset of Alzheimer's as well. However, there is no clear-cut answer as to why exactly Alzheimer’s begins.

Brains with Alzheimer’s disease contain growing plaques and tangles of proteins. These misplaced materials block connections and choke out nutrients. Experts believe sticky clumps of beta-amyloid protein and collapsed/twisted cell “highways” are the reason for Alzheimer’s damage.

Senior woman standing in-front of a mirror, staring off in the distanceThe disease slowly kills off neurons, causing confusion, memory loss, clumsiness, inability to form new memories, and personality changes. Brain cells die as the protein plaques blocking them spread, and their nutrient sources collapse, degrading the individual’s ability to function. In late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, the brain is significantly shrunken from massive amounts of cell death. People with this late-stage progression cannot care for themselves, remember who they are, or recognize even their closest family members.

Take Action to Address Alzheimer’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Although early treatment can slow its progression, the condition is ultimately fatal. This doesn’t mean that you can’t significantly improve the length and quality of life for an Alzheimer’s patient, however.

Have your family members get checked for signs of Alzheimer’s as they get older, especially if the condition runs in your family or you’re worried about memory problems/other symptoms. Catching the condition sooner will make treatments more likely to have better results, and give you more time to spend with your loved ones. Remember, it is possible to sustain a better quality of life with proper treatment. Early detection is the best way to make this possible.

Augusta Health Neurology can help diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease, as well as other causes of dementia. Dealing with this disease can be a strain mentally, emotionally, and financially, but you don't have to do it alone!