What Characterizes Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s usually begins by attacking the brain’s hippocampus, a critical brain region in memory processing. This causes memory and cognitive impairments that define the initial stages of the disease. It also contributes to the anxiety, depression, and agitation from which AD patients also suffer. As the disease progresses through the rest of the brain, additional symptoms develop that impair normal functioning.
Eventually, patients may become so impaired that they have trouble coughing, swallowing, and breathing. They become more susceptible to aspirating food, pneumonia, and other infections, making Alzheimer’s the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
There are three hallmark characteristics of the AD brain:
- The buildup of amyloid-ß (Aß) plaques
- Tangles of fibers inside brain cells called neurofibrillary tangles
- The activation of support cells in the brain called microglia
Additionally, abnormally high levels of free radicals have been regarded as a common pathological feature of Alzheimer’s.