The basics of Alzheimer’s disease

Scientists are conducting studies to learn more about plaques, tangles, and other biological features of Alzheimer’s disease.

Advances in brain imaging techniques allow researchers to see the development and spread of abnormal amyloid and tau proteins in the living brain, as well as changes in brain structure and function.

Scientists are also exploring the very earliest steps in the disease process by studying changes in the brain and body fluids that can be detected years before Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.

Findings from these studies will help in understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s and make diagnosis easier.

One of the great mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease is why it largely affects older adults. Research on normal brain aging is exploring this question.

For example, scientists are learning how age-related changes in the brain may harm neurons and affect other types of brain cells to contribute to Alzheimer’s damage.

These age-related changes include atrophy (shrinking) of certain parts of the brain, inflammation, blood vessel damage, production of unstable molecules called free radicals, and mitochondrial dysfunction (a breakdown of energy production within a cell).