Ashlyn Rasmussen
BIO F111

Many people often confuse dementia and Alzheimers for the same deadly disease, and others have no clue of the damage it causes. In 1906, Alois Alzheimer discovered Alzheimer’s while conducting an autopsy of a woman’s brain and he “described the pathological correlates of presenile dementia’(Martone). Since the discovery in 1906, there have been more than 5.5million reported cases of people with Alzheimer’s in the United States of America as of 2017. This number is only expected to increase as the baby boomer generation goes into assisted living homes. Which will bring the predicted number of people affected too, “13.8 million by 2050 if means of preventing or effectively treating it are not discovered’ ( Stark). Alzheimer’s is a deadly disease because there is no cure, and the ultimate outcome is death. Sometimes people can live for years with the disease and for some people, it can progress at an astonishing rate. Whether or not someone gets the disease all boils down to there brain and a handful of questionable factors. Some scientist believe that it is hereditary, brought on by environmental factors, or the lifestyle of the individual. Dementia and all the categories that fall underneath the umbrella are still baffling doctors and scientists because they can’t pinpoint an exact cause as to why it happens.
Think of dementia as an umbrella and Alzheimers, dementia with Lewie bodies, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, mixed dementia, and many more fall under the umbrella. However these are just some of the examples of what falls under the dementia umbrella, there are 100 other different types of dementia. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is “a progressive disease resulting in the loss of higher cognitive function,’ (Martone). It causes the loss of basic daily functions that some people might take for granted. Like the ability to eat, go to the bathroom, loss of the sense of time, the ability to sleep, memories, communicate, breath, and there is so much more. It happens because the disease attacks the brain and as the individual has the disease longer, it takes away more functions.
Usually, the people affected with Alzheimer’s start off with a gradual memory loss, decline in thinking abilities, and of course the personality changes. The outside changes, due to Alzheimer’s disease, are not the only things happening to someone who has the disease, “the brain, including the build-up of amyloid plaques and tau-containing neurofibrillary tangles, which result in the death of brain cells and the breakdown of the connections between them’ ( Fisher ). In 1906 German physician, Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered the plaques and tangles associated with the disease. “Plaques are dense deposits of protein and cellular material outside and around the brain’s nerve cells. Tangles are twisted fibers that build up inside the nerve cells.’(Fisher). When this disease attacks the limbic system is attacked first, then the cerebral cortex, and when the brain stem is reached each structure starts to lose its function in return. Each system that is attacked in the brain serves a specific function for the body. The Limbic system, “(which contains the hippocampus) damage impairs a person’s memory and causes mood swings (The limbic system is located under the cerebral cortex)’ (Dementia care). The cerebral cortex is attacked next, and its apart of the cerebrum and the damages sustained by the disease cause the individual to have trouble controlling emotional outbursts. This stage is when people might need extensive help with performing daily tasks like eating, dressing, brushing hair, and other activities. Now when the “Brain stem abstains damage in late in AD, it impairs organ function, including the function of the heart, lungs, and various other bodily processes’ (Dementia care). This is usually the end stage of the disease as the body forgets how to function.
Now that the structural changes of how the disease affects the body have been observed, next is the cellular level changes. The disease attacks the brain’s neurons which would normally help the brain carry out certain functions. Between the neuron spaces are synapses, the brain has chemicals called neurotransmitters ( released by neurons ) that are deposited into the synapses. The neurotransmitters are responsible for the communication between the neurons in the brain. “This communication is responsible for producing movement and is a critical part of learning and remembering’(dementia). When someone is affected by the disease the neurons cannot communicate, and thus the body’s ability to learn is compromised. Not only does this affect the body’s ability to learn but it also affects the body’s ability to keep new memories or lose the ones it learned over the years, and the neurons will eventually expire. “Because of all of this damage, the brain gradually shrinks and becomes less functional, leading to many of the symptoms of dementia’ ( dementia ). There are somethings that are available to help slow down the disease but in the end, but it won’t work for everyone.

Info on the clay model brains:
To the left is a representation of a normal- healthy brain. While to the right is an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s. In the essay, I stated that the brain shrinks because of all the damage it has endured from the disease. When the neurons stop working the body can’t function, and the brain shrinks. Which is one of the things that lead to many of the noticeable problems people face with dementia. Like forgetfulness, organ failure, or the inability to walk.

Martone, R. L., & Piotrowski, N. A., PhD. (2019). Alzheimer’s disease. Magill’s Medical Guide (Online Edition). Retrieved from
Stark, S. W. R. A. Dns., & Laden, S. K. . M. (2019). Alzheimer’s disease and genetics. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health. Retrieved from
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2014, August 26). What Happens To The Brain in Alzheimer’s Disease? Retrieved November 19, 2019, from (2018, August 22). Alzheimer Disease 101: How is the Disease Diagnosed and How is it Treated? Retrieved November 19, 2019, from

One Comment

  1. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and terminal form of dementia that is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In 2017, there were 5.5 million reported cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Although the causes of Alzheimer’s remain unknown, environmental and genetic factors are believed to be the root cause of the disease. If a cure is not found, the number of individuals affected by this disease is expected to rise to 13.8 million by the year 2050.
    This disease is common among older adults. The stages of Alzheimer’s disease range from mild to severe and can become so debilitating that it results in a loss of cognitive function, thinking, reasoning, remembering, and behavioral abilities. Alzheimer’s disease eventually interferes with an individual’s capability to perform their own activities of daily living.
    Alois Alzheimer gave name to the disease in 1906 when he discovered what is now known as plaques and tau tangles in the brain. The brain undergoes toxic changes where abnormal deposits of proteins form amyloid plaques and tau tangles throughout the brain, neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and eventually die. Most of the brain damage appears to take place in the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. Both of these parts of the brain are essential for memory. As neurons progressively die, additional parts of the brain become affected as well and the brain begins to shrink. In the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the brain has shrunk significantly. These significant changes in the brain can be seen in Ashley’s clay models of a healthy brain and a brain of that suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

    Alyssa DeCaro

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