Alzheimer’s is an extremely debilitating disease that is quickly becoming a more prevalent disease in today’s elderly and, unfortunately, is still far away from being fully understood.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. As it stands now, there is no cure and not much in the way of treatment for the symptoms once they begin, although there are things that people can do to slow symptoms or reduce their likelihood of appearing.
Fortunately, research is leading us to understand the ailment significantly better than we once did. We are able to pinpoint certain possible causes and correlations that may lead to, or increase the risk of, the onset of the disease. Hopefully, in the future this current research will allow doctors and scientists to develop treatments for the symptoms and possibly one day find a cure.
Age generally plays a large factor in the onset of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. There are many reasons that this could possibly be, but it is known that after the age of 65 the propensity for someone to develop the disorder doubles every five years. Startlingly enough, over half of everyone over 85 appears to be in some stage of Alzheimer’s.
It is generally known that if members of your family develop Alzheimer’s disease, it is likely that you will as well. As with every disease in which genetics plays a role, the more members of your family that develop Alzheimer’s, the more likely it is that you will as well. In cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s (that which develops in the 40s or 50s) it appears to be spread almost exclusively through genetics and accounts for about 5% of cases.
It appears as though head injuries may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This risk increases significantly if there was head trauma during which consciousness was lost for any period of time.
For reasons that are somewhat unclear, it appears as though having diabetes of any kind significantly increases one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in later years. This appears to be even more significantly related to those that have developed type 2 diabetes, although it is not certain whether it is due to the diabetes itself or whether it is due to the unhealthy habits that cause many instances of type 2 diabetes.
According to studies, it seems that sex plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Over half of Alzheimer’s cases are found in females. It is uncertain as to why this is.
Heart disease appears to be another correlative factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Although, like many apparent risk factors for Alzheimer’s, it is not exactly certain why this would be but there are hypotheses regarding the development of beta-amyloid.
Studies have shown that those who have a higher education level may be at lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s. It is also said that those who continually engaged in mentally stimulating activities tended to develop the disease less. One leading hypothesis regarding why this may be is because this allows people to build neural pathways that may be able to compensate for damaged or destroyed synaptic pathways.
It has been shown that sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea, may be a significant risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is still mostly a medical mystery but ongoing research is allowing scientists and doctors to develop an idea about how and why certain symptoms develop, as well as when they begin to develop. This may open up a whole new world of neuroscience as well as tests to determine if someone is developing the early physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The beta-amyloid protein has been named as a possible culprit in causing Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid is the main component of deposits that are known to develop between the synapses of patients with Alzheimer’s. When these deposits, known as plaques, become built up in the brain, they impede certain synapses from firing correctly or connecting at all, destroying vital neural pathways. It’s suspected that the cholesterol that causes many types of heart disease are also responsible for the production of excess amounts of beta-amyloid.
Neurofibrillary tangles are often seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. These tangles are developed in the nerves after the protein (tau) disintegrates. These tangles can develop during significant head injuries or traumatic brain injuries.
Damaged Blood Vessels
Damaged blood vessels in the brain are an obvious problem as they prevent oxygen from reaching the nerves in the brain, putting significant strain on the synapses, and possibly causing brain cell death. This brain cell death shrinks the brain and destroys much of the tissue, a pattern often seen in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.