Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disease, which causes memory loss, and further symptoms. It is the 6th leading cause of death, and there is approximately a new case diagnosed every 66 seconds. More than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s today, and in 2021, Alzheimer’s, and other dementia-related diseases might cost the USA $355 billion.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Loss of short term memory
This is due to the disease targeting the hippocampus of the brain, which is responsible for recollecting recent events
Inability to solve basic math problems
In later stages, the disease targets the frontal cortex, which is considered the hub for most problem solving skills, including math skills.
Loss of spontaneity
The disease will soon spread to the frontal cortex, which controls spontaneity, creativity and abstract reasoning.
Loss of long term memory
In later stage patients, the disease will have spread far enough in the brain, to the neocortex, to affect long-term memory.
In the end, if the disease spreads far enough to infect the entire brain, patients might not be able to communicate, have seizures, and difficulty swallowing or breathing. This could soon lead to death.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease: Beta- Amyloid Peptide
Beta- Amyloid Peptide is a small part of the protein called Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). To help the body function, the protein is separated, but sometimes, it will be separated wrong to form Beta-Amyloid Peptide. These Peptides cluster with other Peptides to finally form a Plaque, which will bind to different receptors on synapses, which is the method our nerve cells use to connect with other nerve cells. This prevents cells from receiving neurotransmission, so our brain cannot connect with our bodies to get them to function.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease: Tau Protein
Tau Protein is a protein in our bodies that stabilises structures called microtubules. Microtubules are responsible for the passage of proteins in our bodies. When Tau proteins are hyperphosphorylated, which means all its phosphorylation sites are saturated, the Tau protein detaches from the microtubules, and since the protein was originally the stabiliser for the microtubules, they fall apart, causing proteins to not be able to be delivered through the microtubules, which could affect many bodily functions.
How Doctors Detect Alzheimer’s Disease
Doctors will use safe radioactive dye in the brain, so the results will show up in the scan, to examine the levels of glucose metabolism in the brain. In patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, they will have lower levels.
Alzheimer’s Disease causes shrinkage of the hippocampus in the brain, so with an MRI scan, doctors can see if a patient may be in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s.
Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease
For Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease, doctors typically prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors. This drug helps the patients control their symptoms, making life easier for them. It is not entirely clear why these inhibitors help, which is why further research is being done around the world, but recent research indicates that it could be because the chemical prevents the brain from breaking down of a brain chemical related to memory and thinking.
In further stages of the Disease, doctors typically prescribe memantine, which also reduces symptoms, while not fully curing the disease. The drug helps the patient regulate glutamine levels in their brain, which helps neurotransmission.
Current Research in Alzheimer’s Disease
Currently, there still is no full cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, which is why many universities, like the University of Hong Kong, are researching the effect of many different things, like Periodontitis, Exercise and Diet on the brain function, and whether this could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, hoping to find the cure for the Disease as soon as possible.
Researcher + Editor + Text Transcription: Megan Kwok; Thumbnail: Cassandra Lui