Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects thinking, memory, and behavior. As the disease progresses, it can severely affect certain brain cells and hinder your ability to complete daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, in which people will experience memory loss and a decrease in their cognitive abilities. 60-80% of all dementia cases are due to Alzheimer’s.
In the United States, around 5.8 million people over the age of 65 are living with this type of dementia, and 80% of those are 75 or older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease for senior citizens—approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 have what is termed as “early-onset” Alzheimer’s.
In 1906, a pathologist by the name of Alois Alzheimer described a condition he found in a fifty-year-old woman as an “unusual disease of the cerebral cortex.” It wasn’t until some time later that his colleague, Dr. Emil Kraepelin, would name it “Alzheimer’s disease.”
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
The earliest and most recognizable symptom of Alzheimer’s is when a patient begins to have memory problems.
Our brains, just like the rest of our body, begin to change as we grow old. It is common for most of us to experience slower thinking and have trouble remembering certain things the older we get.
But serious memory loss and being severely confused might be a sign that someone is experiencing something more than just the typical effects of old age.
Not being able to remember new information is the hallmark of early Alzheimer’s. This happens because the disease begins by first affecting the part of the brain whose main function is learning.
Alzheimer’s then makes its way through the rest of the brain, causing symptoms like disorientation, changes in mood, confusion over time and place, paranoia, difficulty swallowing, and a loss of the ability to carry objects.
It might be difficult for people with signs of Alzheimer’s to recognize they have it. It is not uncommon for friends and family members to recognize it before a person with Alzheimer’s does.
Signs of Alzheimer’s include:
- Repeating questions and statements over and over
- Losing possessions or leaving them in illogical locations
- Forgetting conversations and events
- Getting lost in places that should be familiar
- Forgetting the names of friends, family, and even everyday objects
- Trouble taking part in conversations—cannot find the right words
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientists have not yet found a single cause for Alzheimer’s, but it likely originates from genetics, lifestyle, and environment.
The most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age. While age is not a cause of Alzheimer’s, it definitely puts you at higher risk.
The vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients are over 65 years old. After 65, your risk for getting Alzheimer’s doubles every five years.
If you have family members with Alzheimer’s, you are more likely to contract the disease, and the risk increases if you have more than one family member with it. Diseases that run in families are more likely to have environmental factors that contribute to its prevalence.
Researchers have discovered that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases when patients have a condition that can damage the heart. These include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Plaques and Tangles on the Brain
Two abnormal structures that appear to be damaging and killing nerve cells in the brain due to Alzheimer’s are plaques and tangles.
Plaques are a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that cluster together in the spaces between nerve cells. These disrupt cell-to-cell communication and inhibit processes that cells need to survive.
Tangles are twisted fibers of a protein called tau. The function of this protein is to carry nutrients and other materials to support the life of your brain’s neurons.
In a patient with Alzheimer’s, tau proteins change their shape and become structures called neurofibrillary tangles. These are toxic to brain cells and disrupt the transport of cell material.
Learn More About Clinical Trials in Boston for Alzheimer’s Disease
Do you or a family member suffer from Alzheimer’s disease? Are you interested in participating in a clinical trial?
We have a wide variety of clinical trials available for Alzheimer’s disease. You or your loved one may qualify if specific criteria are met.