Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the U.S, with more than five million people affected. At the same time, it is disproportionately mysterious. Although scientists have become more sure about the causes of Alzheimer's—including a buildup of toxic plaques in the brain called amyloids—much about the disorder is still poorly understood, including how the brain reacts as the disease progresses (and therefore how it might be slowed or stopped).
But a recent study has provided some potential insight on that process. Read on to learn about the study findings and the signs of Alzheimer's disease. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID
This is How Alzheimer's Progresses
Researchers from the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Research Center (NDRC) and MIT/Koch Institute developed a new model of how Alzheimer's progresses. In their research, they found an association between the buildup of those plaques, the degeneration of the brain, and the cells (called glial cells) that are usually protective of the brain.
Specifically, the scientists connected neurodegeneration to two types of glial cell: oligodendrocytes and microglia. The changes in those cells may help researchers understand how Alzheimer's makes the brain degrade.
Glia Cells May Hold the Key
"Our results show that there are a plethora of cellular signaling pathways that are activated at all stages of disease. We may be able to repurpose available therapies to target protein kinases that regulate these cell signaling events," said Forest White of MIT's Department of Biological Engineering. "Clinicians today are studying therapeutic effects on amyloid and tau as proxies for disease, but our results suggest that glia cells are involved at every step of the process. Improved understanding of glia cells and their roles in progressive neurodegeneration may provide new opportunities for treatment of this disease."
The scientists called for more study and collaboration. Said Diego Mastroeni of the NDRC: "No one individual can tackle this disease on their own; it's going to take a group effort to combat this devastating illness."
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Why It's Important?
Alzheimer's disease, a type of dementia, is a disorder that can cause changes to memory, thinking, and personality, inhibiting a person's ability to function. It is a progressive disease; at present, there is no cure. About 50 million people are living with various types of dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to triple by 2050, as the population ages and people live longer.
This is a Major Symptom of Alzheimer's Disease
Memory problems are a common first sign of Alzheimer's disease. Someone with Alzheimer's may forget recent or important events, or names and places. According to the CDC, other Alzheimer's symptoms include:
Challenges in Planning or Solving Problems
Like "having trouble paying bills or cooking recipes you have used for years," says the CDC.
Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks at Home, at Work, or at Leisure
Like "having problems with cooking, driving places, using a cell phone, or shopping," says the CDC.
Confusion With Time or Place
Like "having trouble understanding an event that is happening later, or losing track of dates," says the CDC.
Trouble Understanding Visual Images and Spatial Relations
Like "having more difficulty with balance or judging distance, tripping over things at home, or spilling or dropping things more often," says the CDC.
New Problems With Words in Speaking or Writing
Like "having trouble following or joining a conversation or struggling to find a word you are looking for (saying 'that thing on your wrist that tells time' instead of 'watch')," says the CDC.
Misplacing Things and Losing the Ability to Retrace Steps
Like "placing car keys in the washer or dryer or not being able to retrace steps to find something," says the CDC.
Decreased or Poor Judgment
Like "being a victim of a scam, not managing money well, paying less attention to hygiene, or having trouble taking care of a pet," per the CDC.
Withdrawal From Work or Social Activities
Like "not wanting to go to church or other activities as you usually do, not being able to follow football games or keep up with what's happening," according to the CDC.
Changes in Mood and Personality
Like "getting easily upset in common situations or being fearful or suspicious," says the CDC.
What to Do If You Experience These Symptoms
"Life is a gift—even with Alzheimer's," tweeted Bennett. But remember: "Memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging," says the CDC. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a medical professional. "More than half of people with memory loss have not talked to their healthcare provider, but that doesn't have to be you. Get comfortable with starting a dialogue with your medical provider if you observe any changes in memory or an increase in confusion, or just if you have any questions." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.