Alzheimer’s disease is a serious brain disorder. It causes memory loss and other problems that interfere with everyday life.
Symptoms begin slowly and get worse over time. Early-stage Alzheimer’s is difficult to treat, but medicines can improve or slow the progression of symptoms.
In some people, clumps of the protein amyloid-beta form in the brain (called plaques). Other proteins build up inside neurons (called neurofibrillary tangles). These tangles block communication between nerve cells and cause them to die.
That cause alzheimer
In most people, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. But in less than 1% of the population, it’s caused by specific changes in a gene called APOE-e4 that almost guarantee a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. This risk factor is usually passed down from one generation to the next, making it more common among people with a family history of the disease.
Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s include head injuries, heart disease and high blood pressure. These conditions can damage the brain’s arteries, leading to hardening and plaque build-up in the artery walls. These types of vascular problems can also lead to the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain that may cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another important cause of Alzheimer’s is inflammation in the brain, which can damage the neurons that send signals to other cells. Inflammation can also lead to a decrease in the amount of certain chemicals called neurotransmitters that nerve cells use to communicate.
A build-up of amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain is another early warning sign of Alzheimer’s. These plaques and tangles can damage brain cells, interfere with memory function, and make it harder for you to think clearly and perform other cognitive functions.
The amyloid protein is a sticky substance that can form abnormal clumps in the brain, known as plaques. It can also form tangled fibers in brain cells, called neurofibrillary tangles.
In addition to the amyloid plaques and tangles, other signs of Alzheimer’s are loss of connection between brain cells and shrinkage or atrophy of parts of the brain. These signs can be caused by damage to brain cells, and the shrinkage or atrophy can start decades before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin.
Scientists are now focusing on how these brain changes can be prevented. They want to understand whether and how a healthy diet, exercise and other aspects of overall healthy aging can help prevent the formation of these brain changes. They hope that these strategies will keep the brain healthier and may reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementias in later life.
Signs of alzheimer’s disease
Memory loss and thinking problems are the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Other symptoms may include changes in behavior, including agitation, restlessness, aggression and depression. They also may be accompanied by hallucinations or delusions.
Everyone gets forgetfulness from time to time, but it’s much more common in people with Alzheimer’s. These memory lapses can cause trouble with driving, work and social life. They may even get lost in familiar places.
Researchers don’t know what causes the damage to brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer’s. But they think it’s caused by abnormal structures called plaques and tangles in the brain. Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment, while tangles are twisted fibers that can build inside nerve cells.
The plaques and tangles disrupt the normal functioning of the brain. They prevent parts of a cell’s factory from running well, and as the damage spreads, brain cells start to die.
In most people, these changes begin about a decade before memory problems start. This stage is known as preclinical Alzheimer’s.
If someone you care about is showing signs of Alzheimer’s, you should discuss them with your doctor. The doctor can examine the person and perform some tests to confirm a diagnosis.
Generally, Alzheimer’s affects those ages 65 and older. But the condition can occur in younger people. Some risk factors are age, genetics and family history.
For example, people with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. Having a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, who has Alzheimer’s disease increases your chances of getting it.
Another risk factor is being overweight or obese. This can lead to more inflammation in the brain, which can increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Your health care provider may also ask you about other symptoms that you’re experiencing, such as trouble concentrating or trouble with short-term memory. They can perform a mental status exam and other tests to check your memory, attention, thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.
Treatment for alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is not curable, but there are medications that may help relieve some symptoms. These drugs may also improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers.
The first treatments that doctors use to treat Alzheimer’s are cholinesterase inhibitors, such as donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razydyne) and rivastigmine transdermal patch (Exelon). These drugs increase the levels of acetylcholine, which is important for memory and thinking.
Other treatments include anti-anxiety medicines, which may reduce agitation and aggressive behavior in some people with Alzheimer’s. They should be used only on the advice of a doctor. They can cause sleepiness, dizziness and confusion and should only be given for short periods of time.
There are also some new drugs that have been approved by the FDA, such as aducanumab, which targets amyloid plaques. These clumps of beta-amyloid protein are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.
These drugs may slow the progression of the disease and may make it easier for the person with Alzheimer’s to live at home for a longer time. They may also help to improve behavioral symptoms, such as agitation and depression, which can be difficult for both the person with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Some of these drugs are given by mouth or in a patch, and others are taken as tablets. All of these drugs have side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite.
Other medications, such as memantine, work in another brain cell communication network to slow the progression of symptoms in people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. They are usually taken together with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
Non-drug treatments are being developed to manage some of the symptoms that come with Alzheimer’s, such as agitation and depression. Some of these are aimed at making it easier for the patient to get up in the morning and take their medication, while others are intended to make it easier for the caregiver to provide care for the person with Alzheimer’s.
The most effective drugs for Alzheimer’s can only be prescribed by a specialist, such as a neurologist or psychiatrist. They can be difficult to get hold of, so it is often worth contacting an expert for a referral.
How to prevent alzheimer’s disease
A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that people who regularly exercise, eat well and avoid alcohol have a lower risk of dementia.
Physical activity is important for your heart, circulation, weight and mental health. It can also help you avoid or manage high blood pressure, diabetes and other health conditions.
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help protect the brain from disease. Studies show that those who consume a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Research also shows that regular physical activity helps protect the brain against depression and other conditions. Many people find it difficult to increase their physical activity, but it is a good idea to try to get more movement into your daily life.
Getting regular exercise can improve your mood, reduce the risk of falls and maintain your independence. It can also increase the levels of certain chemicals in your brain that send messages between cells.
It can also decrease levels of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. These deposits are thought to be the cause of memory loss and other symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Other risk factors include a family history of Alzheimer’s, poor sleep patterns and drinking too much alcohol. If you have these habits, it’s important to change them.
Age is the most common risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and it can start in the brain long before symptoms are seen. This means that it’s never too early to make sure your brain is protected at any age.
A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can protect your brain. In particular, you should focus on eating antioxidant-rich foods. These foods are high in vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene. They can also help you avoid unhealthy fats and sugar.
Inflammation is also an important risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. This is because inflammation causes neurons to become damaged and inhibit communication between them.