Everybody has a family member with alzheimers or knows somebody that does. It seems like that rates of this neurodegenerative disorder are going up, but is this really the case? Are the rates of alzheimers going up because of the environments or because of our diets, or simply because the life expectancy is going up as well and this disorder is sprouting up because people are living longer now. This is a disorder that effects many people close to home, and there are a lot of people out there that grow up knowing they are at a high risk for alzheimers because it runs in there family. So what is this disorder? What is going on in the brain?
One of the most common things we know about this disorder is that people begin to lose their memories. Both long term and short term memory are affected in the early stages and slowly progress to get worse as the disorder takes its course. The first form of memory that is truly affected is episodic memory. This is what helps you remember little things like where you put your school backpack, or that you have your oven on and are cooking food in there. In alzheimers, this is seen early on as people forgetting where they put their car keys, or why they walked into a room. This is so commonly overlooked in those beginning stages because people will believe that they are just getting older and have normal memory lapses. Because of this, alzheimers can go unnoticed for quite some time, which can be dangerous for the individual, especially if they live alone.
In the alzheimers brain, there are things called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. These are very prominent, and when you look at the brain of an alzheimers person, they are one of the reasons why you see so many spaces and gaps. Those gaps are also there because neurons are dying and disappearing essentially. The neurofibrillary tangles are created through a process. The PI3k pathway in the brain becomes overactive, which causes the tau protein to become hyperphosphorylated. This hyperphosphorylation leads to the development of the NFT’s (neurofibrillary tangles). These tangles are connected to cognitive decline and behavioral changes. There is still much to be studied with alzheimers, and treatments are being tested. It will be interesting to see where the science is at 20 years from now, and if we have found a cure or not. Even if we haven’t found a cure, have we found a way to treat or slow down the effects of the disorder.