How Does Alzheimer’s Affect the Brain?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are still conditions that are not completely understood in terms of the causes and potential treatments of the disease and its symptoms. However, research has come a long way toward understanding them better. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, then you’ll likely want to learn more about what this means.

To get you started, we’ve got a simple introduction into how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain, and which parts of the brain are affected, helping you get a better understanding of the symptoms associated with this condition.

The effect on neurons

Neurons are responsible for sending signals throughout the brain, transmitting information to cells throughout the body via the nervous system. Plaque and protein clusters build up between these nerve cells and cause them to die, leaving fewer neurons sending vital signals and information in the brain, and breaking up connections between networks of neurons.

Brain shrinkage

As more and more nerve cells die, a process known as brain atrophy starts to occur. Essentially, the brain starts to shrink and the cortex becomes thinner. In brain scans of living Alzheimer’s patients and autopsies after death, you can physically see the difference in size between a healthy brain and one affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Areas of the brain affected

As Alzheimer’s progresses, more and more of the brain is affected. Damage typically begins within the hippocampus. The hippocampus is essential for retrieving short-term memories and consolidating both short and long-term memories, which is why memory-related problems are often the first signs of early Alzheimer’s. Confusion and disorientation may also occur due to damage to the hippocampus, while frontal lobe damage can cause difficulties with planning and problem-solving.

The amygdala is affected as the disease progresses, the part of your brain responsible for emotions and behavior. It is at this point where you may start to see behavioral changes, mood swings, and changes to their personality. Since these changes occur later, activities that focus on an emotional response, such as listening to music and looking at photos, can be beneficial in the earlier stages rather than focusing on facts and stories.

As symptoms worsen in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, problems with facial recognition can be caused by damage to the temporal lobe, while parietal lobe damage can be responsible for issues with balance and special awareness, which makes trips and falls more of a risk.

To learn more about the type of care available to you or your loved one as the disease progresses, contact Brookstone of Clemmons for information about our assisted living community and special care services in Clemmons, NC.