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Elder Care Professionals Talk About The Effects of Alzheimer’s On The Brain

Sep 7, 2018 by Shannon Meller

Welcome back to part three of our four-part series about Alzheimer’s disease. September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and today we will be looking at how Alzheimer’s affects the brain and what goes on in our heads as the disease develops.

In case you missed it: Part 1 | Part 2

Important Parts of the Brain

Our brain is the most complex organ within our body and it is also the most powerful too. There are many intricate features of the brain, but, today, our elder care team will be focusing on four main parts. Let’s take a look:

  • Cerebellum – Located near the back of the skull, this smaller portion of your brain is responsible for your coordination and balance
  • Cerebrum – Responsible for thinking, recalling/remembering, feeling, and problem solving, this is the largest portion of your brain
  • Cortex – This is a layer of the cerebrum and it works to control specific functions of the body. The cortex contains four lobes and each one is responsible for a different body function
  • Brain Stem – This is a stem that connects your brain to your spinal cord. It is responsible for specific functions such as digestion and breathing

The parts of the brain Alzheimer's effects

How Signals Are Received

The brain is made up of blood vessels and billions of little neurons that branch out in all directions to carry signals to their designated sections. A brain signal is known as an electrical charge that tells your brain exactly what to do and these charges allow the brain to form feelings, memories, and thoughts.

Once a charge is created, it will travel down all the neurons until it reaches the synapses, which is where the cells connect. Once there, they let out a burst of chemical, called neurotransmitters, that will then carry the signal to other cells in the body. This is the area of the brain where Alzheimer’s hits the hardest.

How Alzheimer’s Affects the Brain

Healthy neurons and synapses in the brain are important as the brain requires them to function. When Alzheimer’s disease starts to set in, these numbers and the power of these neurons and synapses will diminish. This is due to tangles and plaques that form.

  • Tangles – Strands of protein fragments that twist around the neurons
  • Plaques – Clusters of protein fragments that are clumped together between the synapses

Tangles and plaques generally form the same pattern of development and progression, but the amount of time that the pattern takes to form is different for everyone. Once formed, the tangles and plaque will disrupt the brain’s function by forcing signals down an unknown or abnormal path or they will prevent the signals from going anywhere. As the neurons go unused, they simply deteriorate, die, and rot. This is the part of Alzheimer’s that truly kills the brain.

Individuals who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s will have plaques and tangles develop in the brain responsible for memories, thinking, and learning. Changes in mood, behavior, and personality are subtle at this time and can go unnoticed for some time. Alzheimer’s does not truly show its colors until the middle stages of the disease and this is often when an individual is diagnosed.

During the mid-stages, the proteins will start to spread to the areas that control speech, the understanding of speech, and spatial awareness. This is the time when elder care professionals will often jump in to help with care. The final stages of Alzheimer’s are the worst, and this is when the brain’s cortex suffers the most damage. In fact, the brain can shrink at this time due to rotting and dying of the neurons and cells.

Alzheimer’s & You!

It can be a heart-wrenching experience to watch your loved one deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s. In order to better understand Alzheimer’s disease and how to help your loved one throughout this time, join us at our Walk To End Alzheimer’s event. You can simply bring awareness, walk with a group, or donate.

The Walk To End Alzheimer’s

Date: Sunday, September 16th

Place: Henry Maier Festival Park 
200 N. Harbor Drive 
Milwaukee, WI 53202 

Time: Registration at 8 am 
Ceremony at 9:30 am 
Walk at 10 am

Route Length: 2 miles

Our elder care team invites you to come back next week for the last part of this series!

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