Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a brain malady first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer of Germany in 1906. Much has been learned about the disease since then.
- AD is progressive and fatal. Nearly 5.3 million Americans alone suffer with this illness that kills brain cells causing memory loss and cognitive difficulty severe enough to affect all aspects of an individual’s life.
- Alzheimer’s is the seventh-leading cause of U.S. deaths. This most common form of dementia represents roughly 50 to 70 percent of all incidents of dementia.
- There is no known cure for AD. Treating its symptoms and taking advantage of available services and support vehicles, however, can improve the quality of life for those suffering with the disease.
- Great strides are being made in finding improved treatment methods for Alzheimer’s, deferring its onset and preventing the development of the disease.
How Alzheimer’s affects the brain
Diminished thinking and intermittent forgetfulness are part of the aging process. More pronounced memory loss, disorientation and other cognitive changes are not. Instead they may be indicative of failing or dying brain cells.
Abnormal structures known as plaques and tangles were cited by Dr. Alzheimer for their role in damaging and killing nerve cells in the brain. While the exact role they play in AD remains unclear most experts maintain that in some fashion they obstruct the communication between the cells and disturb the activities needed for survival.
Plaque accumulates in between nerve cells and contains the protein fragment known as beta-amyloid. Tangles are twisted fibers of the protein known as tau and develop within dying cells.
Developing plaques and tangles is another typical part of aging. AD sufferers generally have more. These proteins develop in an anticipated arrangement starting in vital learning and recall sections of the brain before extending to other areas.