Alzheimer’s disease was first recognised by a German neurologist Alois Alzheimer and as you must have noticed the condition is also named after him. Alzheimer’s disease is a physical condition which affects the brain. This disease affects the brain by slowly damaging the nerve cells in all the components of the brain and various surrounding structures of the brain. These dysfunctions would then impair the abilities of a person to govern their emotions, to identify mistakes and patterns, co ordinate movement and remember. Eventually a person who has Alzheimer’s disease loses the entire memory and mental performance. Below is the structure of the brain, to give an idea of the major areas of the brain and the many functions they have;
Firstly I would like to explain what the cause of this disease is. Till date scientists are not entirely sure what causes Alzheimer’s disease. However there are many characteristics and risk factors of Alzheimer’s which are evident within many people with Alzheimer’s. The risk factors are what affect a person’s likelihood of developing the disease. There are various common characteristics within the brain which are evident within the people who have Alzheimer. Firstly the disease is known to have an excessive amount of proteins built up in the brain. Scientists are not able to measure this in a living person, it was revealed through extensive autopsy studies. The buildup of proteins manifests in two ways which are;
– Plaques – Plaques are caused by a buildup of the protein beta – amyloid that mounts up in the spaces between the nerve cells. – Tangles – Tangles are resulted due to the build up of protein tau which accumulates inside of the nerve cells. http://alzheimers.about.com/od/whatisalzheimer1/a/causes.htm The picture above shows a neuron affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are till date studying the relation between plaques and tangles to Alzheimer’s disease. One theory is that they block nerve cells which restrict the communication between the nerve cells and it would eventually make it difficult for the cells to survive.
Through autopsies it has come know that many people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, but people with Alzheimer’s disease develop a great deal more than people who don’t have this disease. Scientists are still researching why many people develop so much in comparison to others. On the contrary there have been many risk factors discovered for Alzheimer’s disease. Firstly age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. As age increases it becomes more of a risk factor. One out of eight people above the age 65 has Alzheimer’s disease and nearly one out of two people above the age 85 have Alzheimer’s. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s virtually doubles every 5 years after the age of 65.
Another risk factor is family history. People who have immediate family with Alzheimer’s disease e.g. parent or sibling is two to three times more likely to develop the disease in comparison to those who have no family history. The more the number of close relatives affected, the more the chance increases. There are two kinds of genes identified by scientists these are known to be linked with this familial risk factor. The first gene is considered to be a ‘risk gene’ it is called ApoE4 it increases the chance of developing Alzheimer’s however it doesn’t mean for sure they will get it. Scientists think that there might be up to a dozen more to be discovered, in addition to Apoe4.
The second type of gene is a “deterministic gene” this gene is much rarer than risk genes. These deterministic genes are just found in a few hundred extended families around the world. If this gene is inherited, the person will without a doubt develop Alzheimer’s and that to at a much earlier age. Furthermore lifestyle factors can also influence the chance of developing Alzheimer’s. Firstly if a person has had a serious head injury, the chances of developing Alzheimer’s in the future is high. This would mean people need to adapt to safety measures to prevent this for example wearing seat belts or not engaging in activities that involves a great risk of falling are at an advantage.
Moreover staying healthy by exercising frequently and maintaining a healthy diet reduces the risk. Also it is important to keep away from tobacco, decrease the consumption of alcohol, keeping socially active and finally engaging into activities that are intellectually stimulating is known to have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, there is a strong connection between the hearts health and the brains health. Individuals who don’t have any heart related disease or condition have a less chance of developing Alzheimer’s. This is because the vascular system is responsible of delivering blood to the brain and if this isn’t happening properly it affects the brain.