More than 5 million Americans are dealing with the symptoms of Alzheimer's. Most people are familiar with the cognitive changes wrought by Alzheimer's disease, including memory loss and confusion. However, the disease affects more than behavior and thinking. It causes devastating physiological changes within the brain. These changes are only seen through testing and intense research. While you're focused on the things you can observe and measure, there are a multitude of things happening in the brain. Following are three ways the disease changes the physiology of your brain.
When diagnosing Alzheimer's, doctors look for the formation of plaque within the brain. This is most often done with a CAT scan or MRI. Plaque forms between the neurons in the brain due to the accumulation of a protein called beta amyloid. This is a type of protein fragment that's found in every healthy brain. In healthy brains, the protein is broken down and eliminated without causing any harm. In an Alzheimer's brain, however, the protein is not broken down. It accumulates and eventually turns into hard plaque.
As if normal brain function isn't affected enough by hard plaque, the neurons also go through physiological changes, which decreases brain function even further. Inside your neurons are twisted nerve fibers called neurofibrillary tangles. These fibers make up what is called a microtubule, which helps transport nutrients from neuron to neuron. Alzheimer's disease causes abnormalities within the fibers themselves, which leads to microtubule collapse. Collapsed microtubules cannot perform their functions properly. The essential transference of nutrients and chemicals between the affected neurons stops.
As you can imagine, neurons that can't get nutrients die. As neurons die, the brain tissue itself starts to shrivel and shrink. Shrinkage is most noticeable in the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for the formation of memories. The cortex, the part responsible for thinking and planning, is also greatly affected. The size difference between a healthy brain and one affected by Alzheimer's is dramatic. Shrinking brain tissue affects cognition greatly and symptoms noticeably increase along with the amount of shrinkage that's evident. While tissue shrinks, the chambers that contain cerebrospinal fluid become enlarged.
As you can see, the physiological changes caused by Alzheimer's disease are dramatic. From the formation of plaque to the shrinkage of brain tissue, the brain cannot hold up under the onslaught of this disease. The disease is progressive and can eventually lead to complete loss of both mental and bodily function. To learn more, contact a neurological services and treatment center.