Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects the brain. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning. The cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, but it may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. An Alzheimer’s brain has several characteristic features. One is the presence of plaques made up of beta-amyloid protein. Another is the presence of neurofibrillary tangles composed of tau protein. These plaques and tangles can damage nerve cells in the brain, leading to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Keep reading to learn more.
What does a brain with Alzheimer’s look like?
The brains of people with Alzheimer’s often have an abundance of plaques and tangles. Plaques are deposits of beta-amyloid peptide, while tangles are bundles of tau protein. These plaques and tangles can interrupt the normal function of neurons, leading to the death of these cells. As a result, the brain may shrink in size, and there may be a decrease in grey matter volume. In addition, areas of dead tissue (areas with no neurons) may be present in the brain.
Over time, the brain begins to shrink and develop clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid. These clumps form plaques that damage brain cells and prevent them from communicating with each other. As the disease progresses, more and more brain cells are damaged, and the brain shrinks even further.
One of the most striking changes that occur in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s is the formation of tangles of a protein called tau. Tau is usually found in healthy brain cells and helps to stabilize them. However, in Alzheimer’s, the tau protein becomes abnormal and forms these tangles that damage and kill brain cells.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s typically appear in people over the age of 65, but it can occur in younger people. The most common early symptom is difficulty remembering recent events. Other early symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation, mood changes, and difficulty with planning and carrying out tasks. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe. People with Alzheimer’s may experience delusions, hallucinations, and severe memory loss. They may also lose the ability to walk, talk and care for themselves.
How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?
The hallmark pathological feature of Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. In order to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, a physician will typically perform a physical examination and order blood tests, and imaging studies such as CT or MRI scans to look for evidence of these pathologies. There is no definitive test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease; therefore, a diagnosis is often made based on a combination of clinical symptoms, lab results, and imaging findings.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, but it’s believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to its development. The brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease typically have an abundance of plaques and tangles. Plaques build up in the spaces between nerve cells. Tangles of twisted fibers of a tau protein accumulate inside nerve cells. It’s not clear how these plaques and tangles contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but they may interfere with the brain’s normal functioning.
Other changes in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease include shrinkage of specific areas and reduced levels of essential chemicals like acetylcholine and serotonin. The significance of these changes is still being studied, but they may play a role in causing the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that profoundly impacts those affected and their families. There is currently no cure, but there are treatments available that can help to manage the symptoms. With research, it’s hoped that a cure will be found in the future.