Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive, incurable and fatal disorder of the brain, which permanently impairs a person’s ability to think and memorize. It is serious enough to affect daily work and life.

This impairment is caused due to destruction of the brain’s cells, called neurons. The disease was named after German psychiatrist Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first identified its symptoms. For most individuals, the symptoms of AD usually start appearing in their late 60s. Some however, develop AD symptoms early in life.

AD causes progressive destruction of neurons that help us learn, think and memorize things. At the onset of AD, a person starts losing memory and some cognition (e.g. getting lost, poor judgment). As the disease progresses, language and reasoning abilities are impaired; for example, people find it difficult to recognize family and friends. In the advanced stages of the disease, the person is completely dependent on others for daily tasks and is bed ridden for most of the time until death.

Scientists still do not know exactly what causes AD. However, due to ongoing research, we have more knowledge as to how this disease works. Brains of AD patients develop two symptoms called “plaques” and “tangles”. Plaques are tiny, dense deposits of a protein called "beta amyloid" that accumulates between neurons. Tangles are twisted bundles of fibers of another protein called "tau" and deposit inside the neurons. Scientists think that excessive accumulation of plaques and tangles becomes toxic to neurons.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive diagnostic test for AD. Doctors use various tools such as patient’s medical history, memory and cognition tests and brain scans to make fairly accurate diagnoses of AD.

While there is no cure for AD yet, there are many medications that work to slow the progress of this disease. Currently, scientists all over the world are working to develop new treatments that can delay the onset of AD and stop its progression.

Fast Facts:

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and fatal brain disorder and has no cure yet It is one of the top 10 causes of deaths in North America It is estimated that by 2050, one in 85 people in the world will be affected by Alzheimer’s disease Plaques and tangles are the two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease

Useful References:

Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease (PDF File) by Alzheimer’s Association. This brochure provides essential information about AD in simple-to-understand language.

Alzheimer’s Society of Canada

This site provides a wealth of current information on Alzheimer’s disease.

US National Institutes of Health

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Alzheimer’s Association

This answer was written by Dhananjay Namjoshi, who is currently doing his PhD in neuroscience at The University of British Columbia.

Photo Credit:Wikipedia Media Commons

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