Mind Matters: Exploring the Latest Research in Alzheimer's Prevention and Treatment

Alzheimer's Prevention and Treatment
10 Jun, 2024

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder marked by the accumulation of specific proteins in the brain, leading to the degeneration of brain cells and eventual brain shrinkage. As the most prevalent cause of dementia, Alzheimer's results in a gradual decline in cognitive functions, including memory, reasoning, behavior, and social abilities, ultimately impairing daily functioning.

In the United States, approximately 6.5 million individuals aged 65 and older are affected by Alzheimer's, with over 70% of these individuals being 75 years or older. Globally, around 55 million people live with dementia, and it is estimated that 60% to 70% of these cases are due to Alzheimer's disease.

The initial symptoms of Alzheimer's often involve forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, it leads to significant memory loss and a decreased capacity to manage everyday tasks.

While there is no cure, medications can help alleviate symptoms or slow their progression. Additionally, various programs and services are available to support those affected by the disease and their caregivers.

Alzheimer and Its Impact on Brain

Microscopic alterations in the brain commence long before the onset of memory loss. The brain houses approximately 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, which interconnect to form complex communication networks. Specific groups of these neurons are dedicated to different functions, such as thinking, learning, and memory, while others are responsible for our senses of sight, hearing, and smell.

Brain cells function much like miniature factories, requiring a consistent supply of resources, generating energy, building necessary components, and disposing of waste. Additionally, they process and store information and maintain communication with other cells. The seamless operation of these cellular factories demands significant coordination, as well as ample fuel and oxygen.

Researchers believe that Alzheimer's disease disrupts the normal functioning of these cellular factories. The precise origin of the problem remains unclear, but akin to a real factory, malfunctions in one system can cascade into issues across other systems. As the damage spreads, neurons gradually lose their ability to function properly and eventually die, leading to irreversible brain changes.

The Role of Plaques and Tangles

Two abnormal structures, known as plaques and tangles, are considered primary culprits in the damage and destruction of neurons.

  • Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that accumulate in the spaces between neurons.
  • Tangles consist of twisted fibers of a protein named tau, which form inside the cells.

Although autopsy studies reveal that most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, individuals with Alzheimer's disease tend to exhibit a significantly higher number, following a predictable pattern. The accumulation usually starts in regions critical for memory and progressively spreads to other areas of the brain.

The exact role that plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer's remains uncertain. However, most experts agree that these structures critically interfere with neural communication and disrupt essential cellular processes. This interference leads to the destruction and death of neurons, manifesting as memory loss, personality changes, difficulties in daily activities, and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia is a general term describing a decline in mental function that interferes with daily life. It is not a specific disease but rather a syndrome characterized by significant cognitive impairment from a previously higher level. Individuals with dementia exhibit at least two or more of the following difficulties:

  • Memory loss.
  • Impaired reasoning and handling of complex tasks.
  • Language difficulties.
  • Challenges in understanding visual and spatial relationships.
  • Changes in behavior and personality.

The severity of dementia can vary. In its mildest form, individuals may experience slight mental decline and require some assistance with daily activities. In its most severe stage, individuals are entirely dependent on others for basic tasks.

Dementia arises when infections or diseases damage the brain regions responsible for learning, memory, decision-making, or language. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of dementia cases in those aged 65 and older. Other notable causes of dementia include:

  • Vascular dementia.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies.
  • Frontotemporal dementia.
  • Dementia related to Parkinson’s disease.

Who does Alzheimer affect?

Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects individuals over the age of 65, with the likelihood increasing with age. However, a rare form called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can occur in people in their 40s or 50s, representing less than 10% of all cases.

How common is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is widespread, impacting around 24 million people globally. In the United States, approximately one in ten people over the age of 65, and nearly one-third of those over 85, are affected by the condition.

What are the stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is often described in stages, although the terminology can vary among healthcare providers and organizations. Despite the different terms used, the pattern of progression remains consistent, with symptoms worsening over time. The stages include:

  • Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Moderate dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Some organizations may also broadly categorize the stages as:

  • Mild.
  • Moderate.
  • Severe.


  • Early.
  • Middle.
  • Late.

Wrap Up

It is important to understand that the experience of Alzheimer’s disease is unique to each individual, and the progression through these stages can vary. Additionally, stages may overlap, making it challenging for healthcare providers to precisely classify a person’s stage. Always feel free to ask your healthcare provider for clarification on the terms they use when describing the stages of Alzheimer’s.