Alzheimer's Disease: Most Common Form of Dementia

By: Jody Smith

Dementia is an unfortunate but not uncommon companion for some as they age. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is considered to be the the type of dementia that occurs most often.

Alzheimer's disease does not usually appear before 60 to 65 years of age although there are cases of earlier onset as early as age 30. This early onset of AD seems to genetically programmed due to a mutation in genes that have been inherited. The risk for Alzheimer's increases with age.

Alzheimer's disease can run in the family. Your risk is higher if family members have suffered from AD.

According to National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging website, there may be more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease.

The hippocampus in the brain can become smaller in size as neurons (nerve cells) continue to die. The hippocampus plays an important role in memory formation, so when it isn't functioning efficiently this can wreak havoc on the person with AD.

Alzheimer's progresses at a slow pace, usually having its first effects in an older person's ability to think, remember, speak and understand language. In the early stages, Alzheimer's disease is troublesome but as time passes and the disease progresses, daily living can gradually go from difficult to becoming a wrenching obstacle course.

At this stage, the types of things that are forgotten are no longer just nuisances like where they left their keys, or what they meant to buy at the store. It may be things like where they live, and how to get home. They may no longer be able to take care of themselves, leaving pots on to boil, becoming unable to handle simple personal grooming, and no longer able to recognize friends and members of their families.

Personality changes can begin to appear, with crippling anxiety or unpredictable aggressiveness. Family relationships can be turned upside down.

It's not possible to tell whether the sufferer is dealing with Alzheimer's or some other type of dementia until after death, and the performance of an autopsy. Upon autopsy, Alzheimer's can be identified in part by the presence of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain, as well as missing connections between neurons.

Amyloid plaques consist of pieces of beta-amyloid peptide, which is a protein, which is combine with other proteins and fragments of neurons.

Tau tangles are accumulations of tau, which is another protein. This accumulation effect prevents tau from performing its proper role in neuron health, and nerve cells die.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease at this time.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Disease

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/alzheimersdisease.html

About Alzheimer's Disease: Alzheimer's Basics

http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/topics/alzheimers-basics

NINDS Alzheimer's Disease Information Page

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/alzheimersdisease/alzheimersdisease.htm

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