What’s Alzheimer’s? It had to happen sooner or later, so it may as well be now. This is dry stuff, but it’s short and to the point. Stick with me.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Derived from Latin, dementia literally means “without mind”. There are static forms of dementia caused by a single event such as a traumatic brain injury, and there are progressive forms caused by disease that result in a slow deterioration of the brain. Alzheimer’s is the latter and accounts for roughly 60 – 80 percent of all dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s disease is named after Aloysius Alzheimer, a German neuropathologist who is credited with publishing the first case of “presenile dementia” in 1906. Since then, scientists have learned that Alzheimer’s is characterized by two unusual types of neuron damage in the brain: Plaques and Tangles. While there is not a consensus on plaques and tangles being the cause or the result of Alzheimer’s, they are described the following way.
Plaques are a sticky protein fragments called beta-amyloid that builds up in between nerve cells.
Tangles are tangled fibers of a protein called tau (as in “wow”) that build up inside cells.
Most people develop some form of plaques and tangles as they age, but people with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more and at a faster rate. Plaques and tangles can form throughout the brain as part of the normal aging process, but the part of the brain important to memory is the initial target in people with Alzheimer’s before spreading to other regions.
So far, scientists do not know the exact role the plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer’s disease. But most experts believe they play a crucial role in blocking communication among neurons and disrupting critical processes that are responsible for cell survival.
It’s the destruction and death of these nerve cells, believed to be caused by plaques and tangles, that results in memory failure, personality changes, and difficulties carrying out activities of daily living that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
And now you know! Thank you for reading to the end. : )
For more information, go to Alzheimer’s Disease Research.