What Happens to the Brain in Alzheimer’s Disease?
In Alzheimer’s disease, as neurons are injured and die throughout the brain, connections between networks of neurons may break down, and many brain regions begin to shrink. By the final stages of Alzheimer’s, this process—called brain atrophy—is widespread, causing significant loss of brain volume.
As the disease progresses, nerve cells in several brain areas shrink and die, including cells that normally produce critical neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that relay brain signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to another. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is deficient in people with Alzheimer’s.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, brain tissue shrinks. However, the ventricles, chambers within the brain that contain cerebrospinal fluid, are noticeably enlarged. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, short-term memory begins to decline when the cells in the hippocampus degenerate.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, neurons are injured and cell death occurs throughout the brain as nutrients and other essential supplies can no longer move through the cells.
The real work of your brain goes on in individual cells. The neurotransmitters travel across the synapse, carrying signals to other cells. Scientists have identified dozens of neurotransmitters. Alzheimer’s disease disrupts both the way electrical charges travel within cells and the activity of neurotransmitters.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease affects specific parts of the brain that control language, memory and thought. Incurable and irreversible, Alzheimer’s progresses through several stages, from mild to severe, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease of the brain. Understanding how the anatomy of the Alzheimer’s differs from a normal brain gives us insight. It can help us cope better with the changes that happen to our loved ones as a result of this debilitating disease.