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Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

Older person with Alzheimer's holding the hand of their caregiver

Memory loss is known to be one of the most common factors of aging. People begin to find it more difficult to retain information or remember particular things. This is a normal effect of aging, but when memory loss becomes more serious and a change in behaviour becomes prevalent, it is an indication that something more serious can be occurring.

Dementia is the general term used to refer to diseases and conditions that are classified by a decline in memory, language and other skills that affect an individual’s ability to execute everyday activities. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia.

AD is popularly known to be due to a cause of an abnormal accumulation of proteins in the brain. The two proteins involved in this accumulation are the beta-amyloid protein and the tau protein.

Let’s begin by talking about the amyloid protein.

Beta-Amyloid Protein

The beta-amyloid protein is made of the breakdown of a larger protein. In AD, abnormal levels of this protein come together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function. This disrupts normal neural pathways hindering the connections between neurons.

Tau Protein

The tau protein accumulates and forms neurofibrillary tangles which collect inside neurons. Healthy neurons are supported by structures called microtubules which aid in directing nutrients and molecules to go from the cell body (directs all activities) of a neuron to the axon and dendrites (transmitting and receiving ends) of a neuron. In a healthy brain, the tau protein binds to and stabilizes microtubules. In the AD brain, chemical changes cause the tau protein to detach from microtubules and stick to one another, forming tangles inside neurons. These tangles block the neuron’s ability to transport signals, disabling the synaptic communication between neurons.

Increased Risks of AD:

  • Age: The most significant factor. The likelihood of developing AD doubles every 5 years after reaching 65 years
  • Family History: Smaller risk
  • Lifestyle Choices: Nutrition, sleep habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise

Common Symptoms of AD:

  1. Memory loss
  2. Increased confusion
  3. Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically
  4. Inability to learn new things
  5. Shortened attention span
  6. Problems recognizing family and friends
  7. Agitation, anxiety, wandering
  8. Repetitive statements or movement
  9. Inappropriate outburst of anger

Supports for AD:

Over the past few decades treatment and prevention for AD has been a priority to many researchers. Currently, aducanumab is the only disease-modifying medication approved to treat AD. This medication can temporarily reduce symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for AD to date.

From a personal stance:

Watching someone you love go through AD is a very tough and painful thing to go through. I say this coming from first hand experience as my grandfather suffered from AD for 4 years and then it turned into dementia which caused his death. Seeing one of the strongest people you know slowly start to fall apart and become weak and incapable is very hard. From once this great idol to now this confusion filled individual, it is taunting. If you are going through this, therapy is a great option to just have someone to help you get through this and comprehend the reality of this disease.

If you’re ready to get started with therapy, you can book an appointment or free consultation with a therapist using the buttons below!


Written by: Liza AL-Nakash, HBSC, Neuroscience Specialist

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