Alzheimer's: What is it?

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia. The term "dementia" is used to describe many different disorders of the brain that cause severe memory loss and confusion. About 1 in 20 people over the age of 65 develops dementia. More than half of these people have Alzheimer's, which makes this disease the most common cause of dementia.

A progressive disease

The disease of Alzheimer's is a progressive disorder that affects brain cells. This means that the brain cells gradually die, and more parts of the brain are damaged. The symptoms will get worse over time.
People at an early stage of the Alzheimer's disease become forgetful or have difficulty finding the right words for everyday things. One of the first symptoms is the loss of it short-term memory (the ability to remember recent events). For example, a 70-year-old may remember details about his or her twelfth birthday party, but only for a few minutes after leaving the table he forgets that he or she has had breakfast. As the disease progresses, they can become increasingly confused. Over time, someone with Alzheimer's will increasingly need help from those who care for him or her.

A chemical imbalance

People with Alzheimer's disease have a shortage of important chemicals in the brain that we have neurotransmitters to mention.
Neurotransmitters are responsible for the transmission of messages within the brain. These messages control functions such as memory, the ability to think clearly, speech and movement. In Alzheimer's disease, thin fibers of a protein that we call tau form balls in the brain cells.
These clusters become larger until they cause the cells to burst, thereby dying. Another protein, beta amyloid, forms layers between the brain cells that we call plaques. These plaques are toxic to the brain cells and kill all the brain cells in the area.
The gradual loss of the capabilities of an Alzheimer's patient is a result of damage to the various parts of the brain - although each patient will experience the disease in his or her own way. Usually the part of the brain that is responsible for storing new memories is affected first. After that, the part of the brain that is responsible for planning and performing tasks is damaged. In the final stage of the disease, the part of the brain that controls the muscles is affected, making walking and other movements difficult.

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