What Exactly is Alzheimer’s Disease?

One factor that the millions of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease along with their friends and families can agree upon is that Alzheimer’s is a devastating force to be reckoned with. Nowadays it would be difficult to find someone who has not been directly or indirectly affected by the disease. That’s because the statistics for Alzheimer’s are staggering. 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s. But what exactly is it?

When most people think of Alzheimer’s disease, they think of memory loss, particularly short term memory loss. Memory loss is a key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, but why? What causes it?

Cells in the brain start to degrade when plaques and tangles develop. These plaques and tangles are made of Amyloid and Tau.

Amyloid is a substance that is produced when what is called the Amyloid Precursor Protein is degraded. Cells that are functioning properly dispose of amyloid. Degraded cells lose the ability to remove this amyloid, and it forms a plaque around the nerve cells.

Tau acts as a freeway transporting nutrients around the cell. During Alzheimer’s the tau becomes tangled preventing nutrients from being transported and strangles the cells.

This degradation process starts in a section of the brain called the Hippocampus. The Hippocampus is where memories are formed, but as the cells in this part of the brain start to break down from plaques and tangles, it becomes harder to form new memories. That is why the earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s is oftentimes short term memory loss. 

Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

How does the disease progress? From the Hippocampus, the condition spreads to the region where language is processed causing Aphasia: an inability to speak clearly or at all. From there, the part of the brain that controls logical thought is affected, and a person’s ability to make plans and understand concepts diminishes. Next, the center where emotions and moods are regulated is attacked.

The disease progresses to the part of the brain where senses, such as what we hear and what we smell, are processed. When this part of the brain is affected, hallucinations may occur. Next, the brain center where old memories are stored is attacked. Soon thereafter, motor functions including balance and coordination are compromised. Finally, the disease destroys the part of the brain that regulates breathing and the heart. The disease is a steady invader that, on average, takes 8 – 10 years to run its course. 

Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s is not a disease that just affects our senior population. A small percentage of people under the age of 65 also suffer. Some develop the disease in their 50s, 40s, and even in their 30s. A news story in Australia tells about an expectant Mother who was only 31 years old when she not only discovered she was pregnant but also learned that she had Alzheimer’s disease.

It might be easy to assume that if a younger person has Alzheimer’s that they would fare better and that their body would be able to fight the disease more effectively. However, Alzheimer’s knows no boundaries when it comes to age. The disease steadily ravages the brain regardless of how young or old its victim is. 

Alzheimer’s is the most common and best understood form of Dementia, and help is available. Groundbreaking research has led to a better understanding of what can be done to help those who suffer. The Alzheimer’s association is a fantastic resource for those seeking knowledge of what to do. Certain Assisted Living Communities offer research based programs for Alzheimer’s sufferers.

For more information on these types of communities, please contact Care Placement at (619) 660-8814. An eldercare advisor will do a detailed assessment of your loved one and provide you information on these communities.

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