The Alzheimer’s Brain

To understand dementia, we must first understand the brain. The brain has different sections that control different functions. The frontal lobe is where emotion and memory is stored. The parietal lobe controls motor skill such as the ability to move. Anything to do with motion comes out of that area. The temporal lobe is where language skills are stored like the ability to talk. The occipital lobe is your visual memory and controls the ability to see and the ability to look at something and recognize what it is. The brain has a master switch board that decides how much of what banging around up there needs to go into the body.

With the Alzheimer’s brain there are three cruel realities:

1. The whole brain is dying. It’s not just memory that is affected. This is why victims of Alzheimer’s lose the ability to walk, the ability to speak clearly, the ability to understand what is being told to them. The whole brain is going. They may look at something and not know what they are looking at.

2. The second cruel reality is that it is progressive. There is an early stage, a middle stage and a late stage. This disease doesn’t start and the say “ok, we’re done.” It goes until it’s finished and finished usually means death.

3. Finally there is no cure for this disease. We don’t know why it can start early and then wait and start with someone at 95. We don’t know and research is not progressing rapidly enough. Instead of the millions we spend on providing medical care for those not even eligible lets get off our collective asses and push our elected officials to make this a priority like cancer or aids research.

Somewhere along the course of the disease, the brain starts having what is called plaques and tangles. That’s the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. That’s what differentiates Alzheimer’s from other dementias. That’s how doctors recognize it when they look at brain tissue. Sometime during the course of the disease, the nerve cells of the brain that control memory, thinking, and judgment are damaged, interrupting the passage of “messages” between the cells. With this damage, plaques and tangles begin to appear, causing the microscopic brain cell to stop functioning and die. Basically the destruction of the brain is the brain dying and falling in on itself. It’s the easiest way to understand what the disease does – less brain tissue, less thinking ability, motor ability, speaking and hearing.

No matter where you live, Alzheimer’s presents itself at about the same rate in every country that it’s in. The disease may be less prevalent in countries where life expectancy isn’t as high as in the U.S. That just means that people are dying from other diseases earlier in life.

What we do know about the disease is that there is a genetic influence. It tends to follow in families. This doesn’t mean that if your mom had it, you’ll have it. It doesn’t mean that it skips generation so that if your mom had it, your children will have it. It doesn’t mean anyone is going to show it, but it is a possibility. In addition, Alzheimer’s may be caused by a virus that takes years to develop, or by missing or decreased levels of neurotransmitters.