What is Alzheimerís disease?
(Content reproduced with permission from the Alzheimer Society of Canada)
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired. It is the most common form of dementia. (Dementia is a syndrome consisting of a number of symptoms that include loss of memory, judgment and reasoning, and changes in mood, behaviour and communication abilities.
Related diseases include: Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Lewy body Dementia.)
The disease was first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. He described the two hallmarks of the disease: "plaques" - numerous tiny dense deposits scattered throughout the brain which become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels and "tangles" which interfere with vital processes eventually "choking" off the living cells. As well, when brain cells degenerate and die, the brain markedly shrinks in some regions.
The image below shows, a person with Alzheimer's disease has less brain tissue (right) than a person who does not have the disease (left). This shrinkage will continue over time, affecting how the brain functions.
MRI images courtesy of Sunnybrook and
Women's College Health Sciences Centre
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses and affects different areas of the brain, various abilities become impaired. The result is changes in abilities and/or behaviour. At present, once an ability is lost, it is not known to return. However, research is now suggesting that some relearning may be possible.