Psychiatrist Blog

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

grandmother and grandfather

What does it do to a person and how is it treated?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive disease that slowly worsens over time and affects a person’s ability to think and carry out daily tasks. Since it is the most common cause of dementia in older adults, it typically presents as a “late onset type”, meaning symptoms first appear in the mid 60’s age range. There can be early onset Alzheimer’s and is found to be between the ages of 30-60, but is much rarer. The first symptom to present is typically issues with memory, but this can vary. Some may experience problems with speech, vision, reasoning, but as the disease progresses, patients will develop more problems doing everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, or paying bills. 

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is unknown, but it is believed to be caused by genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices. The brain has many neurons firing at one time, which essentially allows our brain to function and process information normally. With Alzheimer’s, the firing of these neurons is disrupted to the point where they stop working completely, and die. Once these neurons die off this portion of the brain begins to shrink and is initially seen in the hippocampus. Under microscopic inspection, one can see Beta-amyloid plaques that are clumped together along with tangles of tau proteins. 

Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, there is no medication at this time that is able to stop it completely. However, there are medications that providers use to help the patient deal with symptoms and to help slow the progression of the disease down such as Aricept, an acetyl cholinesterase inhibitor and Namenda, a NMDA receptor antagonist. Recently as of June 7, 2021, the FDA has provided accelerated approval of the medication Aducanumab, which can help reduce the amount of amyloid plaques that are formed, which in turn can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. 

Overall, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be a very difficult disease to manage for both the patient and the family. It is important to work closely with your provider to find out the best treatment options that are available to ensure the best possible outcome. 

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