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Alzheimer's Disease FAQs (cont.)

What are symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

While Alzheimer's disease progresses at different rates in different people, three general stages of Alzheimer's disease have been described.

  • In the early stage (pre-clinical), symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are subtle. The main symptom is memory loss.
  • In the middle, or intermediate, stage (mild cognitive impairment), individuals begin to lose their ability to think and reason clearly, judge situations, communicate, understand new information, and take care of themselves.
  • As the disease progresses to the late stage (Alzheimer's' disease), individuals may experience changes in personality and behavior, anxiety, agitation, disorientation, paranoia, severe memory loss, loss of mobility, delusions, and hallucinations.

What brain changes are associated with Alzheimer's disease?

The neurodegenerative disorders in the brain that result in Alzheimer's disease start years, probably decades, before the beginning of clinical symptoms. This long period of time between the beginning of the pathological changes and the early symptoms opens a window of opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, at the present time no treatment is available to stop the progression of the disease.

There are two main changes in brain tissue that are associated with Alzheimer's disease.

  1. The abundant presence of the so-called "senile plaques." These plaques are the result of the extracellular deposit of a protein fragment that is naturally produced inside the brain, known as amyloid A-beta 1-42. This protein accumulates in the parenchyma of the brain, that is, the area outside the nerve cells. The reason for this excessive accumulation is not clear but it is considered one of the landmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
  2. The presence (different from the plaques) of abnormal deposit of substances inside the cells of the brain. These intracellular deposits are called "neurofibrillary tangles" and "neuropil threads." The latter are composed of a protein called "Tau protein."
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/1/2014
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