Alzheimer’s: The most common form of dementia

Alzheimer disease, often referred to as “Alzheimer’s,” is the most common type of dementia. There are many different kinds of dementia but because Alzheimer disease is the cause in 60 to 80 percent of cases of dementia, the words often get used interchangeably.

What happens to the brain when you have Alzheimer disease

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease involving nerve cell destruction. The damage usually starts in the area of the brain that affects memory and learning. It is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse and worse, leading to symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, changes in behavior, and ultimately, physical changes such as problems with speaking, swallowing and walking.

Scientists believe that the changes to the brain are a result of excess “plaques” and “tangles.” Plaques are sticky protein deposits that build up between the nerve cells of the brain. Tangles are strands of protein that collapse, forming “tangles,” which then prevent cellular communication and vital nutrients from passing through. While everyone develops more tangles and plaques as part of the normal aging process, people with Alzheimer’s develop many more of these problematic protein structures.

Age, genetics and other factors influence who gets Alzheimer’s

Research continues to reveal possible risk factors for Alzheimer disease. It is generally known, however, that a person’s age, family history and genetic factors play a large part in determining risk for the disease. Most people who have Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65; however, some people are diagnosed with “early onset” Alzheimer’s in their 40s or 50s.

New studies are showing a connection between head injury (traumatic brain injury) and risk for Alzheimer disease. Other studies have found a strong connection between heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, because heart conditions affect blood flow and supply to the brain.

Keep in mind that symptoms of Alzheimer disease may overlap with or be similar to symptoms of other health conditions. Also know that memory loss, a common symptom of Alzheimer’s, is also common to some people who are experiencing healthy aging. If you have concerns about Alzheimer disease, or you have noticed possible symptoms in yourself or a loved one, be sure to discuss it with your doctor and get more information about the disease.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.