Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that affects millions of older adults. Suspecting you or a loved one may be exhibiting signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be incredibly stressful and emotional.
It’s important to keep in mind that even if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease and you find yourself forgetting things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have this disease.
Whatever the case, be sure to contact your doctor immediately because the earlier you recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and seek treatment, the better your chances of maximizing your quality of life.
Scientists believe that for the majority of the population, Alzheimer's disease results from a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. In very rare cases (less than 5 percent), Alzheimer's is caused by specific genetic changes that guarantee a person will develop the disease.
The causes of Alzheimer's disease are not yet fully understood. But, the effect of the disease on the brain is unmistakable. A brain affected by Alzheimer's disease has many fewer cells and many fewer connections among surviving cells than does a healthy brain.
More specifically, Alzheimer's disease is characterized by a build-up of proteins in the brain. When doctors examine Alzheimer's brain tissue under the microscope, they see two types of protein abnormalities that are considered hallmarks of the disease.
Plaques are clumps of a certain protein (beta-amyloid) that may damage and destroy brain cells in many ways, including interfering with cell-to-cell communication.
Tangles are twists of the tau protein in the brain. Brain cells depend on an internal support and transport system to carry nutrients and other essential materials throughout their long extensions.
In Alzheimer's, threads of tau protein twist into abnormal tangles, leading to failure of the brain’s transport system.
Autopsies have revealed that most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age. But, people with Alzheimer’s develop far more plaques and tangles than those who do not develop the disease.