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Alzheimer's Disease: Why is it so common?

Alzheimer's is categorized, by most reputable organizations, as a common disease. We all know about it - how it makes people forget things, makes them slower, unable to understand things at times. Often it is attributed directly to age, but is that correct? Why is it so common, what causes it, and could it be treatable?


Alzheimer's, contrary to popular opinion, is not directly related to age. Simply put, the brain is degraded. Comparison pictures between brains with and without Alzheimer's show very obvious differences - brains with Alzheimers look very degraded. What exactly happens to the brain in this disease though? First, there is a build up of amyloid plaques between the neurons in the brain. Between the neurons of the brain, usually there are neurotransmitters and signals being sent, so with a build up of plaque those signals are not able to be transmitted. This protein is naturally developed, and can randomly begin to disrupt the cell function.

In a healthy cell, there are microtubules all over inside the cell, transporting nutrients and holding the cell structure. The protein tau is a very important part of the microtubule skeleton, since it helps with the support of the tubules and help guide nutrients in the tubules. In an Alzheimer's cell, though, the tau proteins in the neurons begin to bind to other tau proteins, which disrupts the microtubules' functions and create neurofibrillary tangles, which are tangling threads all over inside the neuron.


Why is this linked to age? Well, this build up of plaque and these neurofibrillary tangles can happen to anyone. In early-onset Alzheimer's, middle aged people can also begin to get it. IT is not directly related to age, but age is a risk factor - meaning that as you get older, you are more likely to develop these problems. Also, if a family member has Alzheimer's, one is slightly more likely to develop Alzheimer's as well.


Unfortunately, Alzheimer's is not currently treatable, even though there are thousands working around the clock to try to cure it. Medication can delay its onset by a while, and decrease the effects, but there are no permanent and absolute cures. Medication such as Memantine can help stimulate neurons and decrease abnormal brain activity, basically enhancing the brain, which in some patients has delayed or decreased the effects of the disease by almost 6 months.


Alzheimer's, a disease commonly mistaken as a disease directly related to age or genetics, is not actually related to either. They are both risk factors - but it can happen to anyone. Studies have shown that a Vitamin D deficiency also increases the chance to get the disease. For now, the best we can do is to stay in the sun for Vitamin D and live a healthy life.

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Rohit Duggaraju

Anatomy Magazine

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