What is alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to dementia.

Dementia is a human condition that occurs when a disease disrupts normal cognition function, behaviour and psychological states to such a serious degree that prevents the ability to live independently. Dementia is defined by the loss of independence that an individual who now suffers from this disease used to have in terms of normal operation in a personal, workplace, family and social context. Dementia is not simply a part of the normal ageing process, instead occurring from a morbid state of the brain. In addition to being a disease of the brain that eats away at the most genuine of human capabilities, it is also a personal condition and constitutes a pathology at the core of the family unit, who has to cover and ensure the care of the person suffering from dementia and family members, especially the main caregiver, very often suffering from overload and breakdown of their marital or fraternal relationships. Society has to respond to the needs of patients and caregivers so the dementia is without a doubt a condition of the whole social fabric that concerns and threatens the entire community.

The most frequent form of dementia is the one occurring in Alzheimer's disease, which is responsible for 70% of cases. This is followed by dementia associated with cerebral vascular disease and other degenerative forms of dementia such as Lewy body disease, frontotemporal lobar dementia or dementia linked to Parkinson's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is characterised by neuronal loss and the loss of connections between neurons (synapses). Deposits of amyloid protein also take place in the form of senile and neuritic plaques and build up in the neurofibrillary tangle neurons containing hyperphosphorylated tau protein.

The pathological changes of the disease develop slowly over several years. They start off in the neural networks involved in memory processes, spreading to different areas of the cerebral cortex. Clinically speaking, this slow process has been classified into three stages. During the pre-clinical stage, pathological changes emerge in the brain without the appearance of any symptoms. In the prodromal stage meanwhile, the first signs of memory loss and other cognitive functions start to appear, but the patient retains his/her operational independence in day-to-day life. By the time the dementia stage arrives, the patient is already dependant and can no longer live independently. This stage of dementia is also divided into three phases: mild, moderate and advanced.

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