What Does Alzheimer’s Do to the Brain?

The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease affects specific parts of the brain that control language, memory and thought. Incurable and irreversible, Alzheimer’s progresses through several stages, from mild to severe, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.What Does Alzheimer's Do to the Brain?

Alzheimer’s disease starts with minor cognitive problems. Confusion, forgetfulness and mood swings are common in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. People in the late stages may lose their ability to eat, recognize loved ones, swallow or walk.

How Alzheimer’s Impacts the Brain

As the Alzheimer’s Association explains, Alzheimer’s disease is the result of a number of factors rather than a single cause.

However, experts agree that Alzheimer’s stems from the abnormal buildup of plaques (beta-amyloid protein fragments) between nerve cells in the brain.

Through each Alzheimer’s stage, tangled pieces of these plaques destroy more brain cells, eventually causing fatal damage.

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

These stages include:

1. Early Stage Alzheimer’s

The earliest stages of Alzheimer’s may begin 20 years or more before diagnosis. At this point, plaques and tangles begin to form in parts of the brain that impact learning, memory, planning and thinking. Medical tests cannot yet detect Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages.

2. Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s progresses to moderate stages, more plaques and tangles develop in areas of the brain important to memory, planning and thinking, and spread to areas that affect speech. These changes cause noticeable confusion and communication problems that can impact an individual’s personal or work life. Often, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in this stage.

Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s stages can last from two to 10 years. During this time period, individuals may struggle to recognize family members and friends. They may also experience behavior and personality changes.

3. Late Stage Alzheimer’s

The most severe stage of Alzheimer’s can last from one to five years. Most of the brain’s outer layer, which scientists have mapped to memory, movement, thinking and other functions, has been permanently damaged.

Widespread cell death causes the brain to shrink. At this point, individuals no longer recognize family and friends. They also lose their ability to care for themselves and communicate.

Research on Alzheimer’s Continues

Alzheimer’s treatment can help improve the quality of life for people with the disease and slow it’s progress – but the quest for new treatments continues worldwide.

The aim is to develop medications that target the brain changes that Alzheimer’s causes, but more research funding is needed to achieve that goal.

You can review the Alzheimer’s Association’s Treatment Horizon webpage for more information about treatment of the disease.

What changes have you witnessed in a loved one going through the stages of Alzheimer’s? What can you tell others to help them cope through these stages? We’d like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • I spoke with a scientist who does research on Cinnamon and he was so excited to share that it has much potential for helping break down the plaque in the brain from Alzheimer’s!

  • Holly

    Read much more about the Alzheimer’s brain: http://goo.gl/vKPsXg

  • TOM SIM

    MY WIFE DIAGNOSED A FEW MONTHS AGO.NOT KNOWING ANYTHING RE THIS DISEASE,I NOW FIND I HAVE TROUBLE COMMUNICATING WITH HER.SHE HAS GOOD DAYS,IF YOU CALL THEM THAT ? THINKING BACK,I NOW REALISE THIS WAS COMING ON A COUPLE YEARS AGO.SPECIALIST YET TO EXAMINE HER,BUT IN JULY ? I TOO SUFFER ,BUT FROM A SEVERE STROKE,LEAVING MY SHORT TERM MEMORY VERY AFFECTED,PLUS MOVEMENT WITHOUT USE OF RIGHT SIDE.HOPEFULLY IT DOES NOT PROGRESS TOO FAST.THANKS FOR THIS COLUM,IT HELPS..

  • Vyrox

    my grandfather has been diagnosed with AD for almost 7+ years. He is now at his last stages where he cannot communicate,read,write,think or listen. He don’t really understand what I say and he don’t know how to response. when he tries to talk, he is muttering things which I don’t understand. He has difficulties in eating, going to toilet or even walking. Sometimes, he would walk a zombie. I always have to support him and hold his hands wherever he goes. He wouldn’t sleep at night but to roam around the house and mutter and point at the mirror… which sometimes creep me out. But i never complain because it’s my responsibility to take care of him every single minute (even tho im just 16) because I was and i’m still thankful for all the time he took care of me and all the time he raised me up before he’s in his last stages… He was still taking care of me 2 years ago even tho it’s a difficult task for him. But now, it’s my turn to support him in every bit of his life.

  • Tosh

    I understand this was posted 4 years ago, but for anyone researching Alzheimer’s like myself, I have recently discovered several studies linking iron and use of statins to this disease. It is my belief that the brain needs fats to protect itself and these statin drugs are preventing the brain from receiving the amount of fat it needs to survive. Plus, as the brain tissue dies from being unprotected, it can no longer instruct the body to digest minerals and chemicals the way a normal brain can because the communication links are damaged. IMO, plaque build up IS NOT THE REASON…IRON BUILD UP IS and statins are the reason the iron builds up in the first place. Just something to consider and discuss as we battle this disgusting illness.

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