What is Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s is atype of dementia that is characterised by problems with memory and behaviour. Dementiais a general term for memory loss or cognitive issues such as language,learning, comprehension and social functioning. Alzheimer’s is the most commontype of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of cases. Symptoms usually begin toslowly develop and over time, can become severe enough where those affected maynot be able to live on their own. Symptoms start with things such asforgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, which may be hard to notice atfirst. As time progresses, symptoms usually worsen to more severe memory lossand can even lead to changes in personality or mood.
People living with Alzheimer’shave, on average, 8 more years to live, after their diagnosis. The risk ofdeveloping Alzheimer’s increases with age. The average age of people with Alzheimer’sis 65 and older. Although a majority of cases are of elderly people, there canalso be early onset Alzheimer’s which accounts for around 5% of cases. Inaddition to the risk increasing with age, Alzheimer’s also worsens over time. What Causes Alzheimer’s?Scientists don’t know the exact reasons for what causes Alzheimer’s,but they do know that patients develop two major features in their brains. Oneof these is plaques which are deposits mostly made up of a protein calledamyloid beta.
The other feature is tangles of a protein called tau which areformed inside of neurons. Normal people still develop some of these plaques andtangles as they age but patients with Alzheimer’s have much more of them. Theseplaques and tangles in patients are also ale to spread through to unaffectedareas of the brain as their illness worsens. The best idea that scientists have been able to come upwith is called the amyloid hypothesis. The amyloid hypothesis suggests that a build-upof the protein amyloid beta is the main cause for Alzheimer’s. Scientistsbelieve that the plaques cause a disruption in the communication between braincells. In addition to forming bundles of plaque, amyloid beta can also formbundles that dissolve into the fluid in the brain.
This can cause harmfulinflammation when the immune system tries to clear these out. This hypothesis still doesn’t take into account how thetau proteins affect the brain. Scientists have found that these tangles of tau appearto form after the amyloid beta plaques and lead to even more brain damage. Tauis normally used to stabilise microtubules which are tiny structures neurons useto transport nutrients and neurotransmitters around the cell. When tau doesn’tfunction as normal and forms the tangles, it disrupts the signalling andtransport within the cell.
As the amyloid beta plaques, inflammation, andtangles of tau build-up and progress, they begin to disrupt the systems andfunctions of the brain. There is currently no know way of reversing the formingof these plaques and tangles. Scientists are also not sure what causes theseplaques and tangles to start developing in the first place. Many scientistsbelieve the reason for Alzheimer’s includes several factors such as genetics,the environment, and overall health. One known definitecause of Alzheimer’s which accounts for approximately 1% of cases is caused bya genetic mutation in the amyloid-related genes PSEN1 or PSEN2 or in a proteinthat gets processed into amyloid beta (APP). You only need to inherit one copyof the mutated gene to develop familial Alzheimer’s.
Unlike normal onset ofdementia which usually starts showing symptoms around 65 or older, these casesshow up earlier; around 40 to 50. Is It Possible to Cure Alzheimer’s? Even though we stilldon’t understand everything on how Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affectour brains, there is no reason why they should be impossible to prevent orcure. Scientists have been continuing to research how dementia affects thebrain and possible ways to prevent or even cure Alzheimer’s. There are currentlyno available cures for Alzheimer’s but there are many treatment options to helpand slow the progression of the disease. The two main types of drugs used fortreating Alzheimer’s are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA antagonist.The acetylcholinesterase inhibitors increase levels of the neurotransmitteracetylcholine in the brain by blocking the enzyme that normally breaks it down.
This can help to ease the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.