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Alzheimer's Causes

Long before memory and personality changes become apparent, the brain of a person affected by Alzheimer’s has already started developing microscopic defects. The brain contains 100 billion neurons which work together in a network responsible for the five senses, memory, critical thought and emotions. Much like any intricate system, small abnormalities and alterations can create ripples that affect the entire system. As the number of defects grows, the problems create a cascade effect that manifests in more severe symptoms.

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What actually causes Alzheimer's disease and the way in which its symptoms progress is the subject of intense study in the medical community. Researchers have found a connection between abnormal structures in the brain (identified as plaques and tangles) and the cell damage that leads to Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory breakdown, personality alterations, problems handling normal daily activities and more. The process that causes these abnormalities is still unknown.

Plaque deposits, which collect in the spaces between nerve cells, are made up of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid. Tangles occur inside brain cells and are buildups of twisted fibers of a protein called tau. It is not known exactly how these contribute to Alzheimer’s, but research points to them blocking signals among nerve cells and disrupting their life processes. Development of plaques and tangles is a normal part of the aging process, but Alzheimer's patients’ brains show far higher levels of these abnormalities.

The end result of all of this is a deterioration of the brain tissue, namely extreme shrinkage of the hippocampus and cerebral cortex and enlargement of the ventricles.

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More About Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's Prevention

Reducing your risks of contracting Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s Signs & Symptoms

Recognizing the effects of Alzheimer's

Testing for Alzheimer’s

How is Alzheimer's diagnosed?

Alzheimer's Management

Medications and everyday care for individuals with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's Stages

What to expect as Alzheimer's progresses

Alzheimer's General Information

Return to main Alzheimer's information page.

Other Types of Dementia

Types of Dementia

Return to the main Types of Dementia page

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

A form of dementia connected with repetetive head traumas and concussions. Learn more here.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is often responsible for early-onset dementia cases. Learn more here.

Parkinson's Disease

Symptoms such as muscle rigidity, tremors and changes in speech and gait are common. Learn more here. 

Vascular Dementia

Causes a decline in cognitive skills due to brain cell damage due to circulatory problems. Learn more here.

Lewy Body Dementia

A common form of dementia combining Alzheimer's-like cognitive symptoms and Parkinson's-like motor issues.

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