Alzheimer's Disease

What's going on in the brain?

There are different types of dementia, but Alzheimer's disease is the most common one among older people. And while some forms of the disease are reversible (such as dementia due to toxic reactions to medications), Alzheimer's disease is not. That's because Alzheimer's disease is a progressive dementia –caused by a progressive degeneration of the brain cells. The brain is the control centre for your whole body; and different regions of the brain are responsible for different parts of the body and for different behaviours. The brain degeneration that occurs in Alzheimer's disease, affects memory, emotions, behaviour and mood, and, as a result, a person's ability to carry out daily activities changes. As the disease progresses through its stages, symptoms worsen.

What are the risk factors for Alzheimer's Disease?

A range of hypotheses has been proposed, but the cause of Alzheimer's disease is not currently known. Researchers are looking into what factors might put someone at risk for the disease. Including:


The most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is age. The older a person is, the greater his or her chances of developing the disease. In fact, 1 in 20 people over 65 have the disease, and in people over the age of 85, the risk rises to 1 in every 4.

Cardiovascular health

There's growing evidence that risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity are also risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

Family history and genetics

For some people, a family history of dementia increases the chances of a person developing Alzheimer's disease, while having a first-degree relative with the disease greatly increases the odds of developing it compared with individuals with no family history. In recent years, scientists have found several genes which are closely associated with Alzheimer's disease. Most notable is the ApoE4 gene. When one copy of the gene is present, a person has three times the normal risk of developing Alzheimer's disease – and the odds are increased by 10 times in people who have two copies. Genetic tests can sometimes identify people who are at increased risk of the disease, but can not substitute for a proper diagnosis.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

People with MCI have more memory problems than would be expected from someone at a similar age but are able to function independently. They do not show other signs of dementia, such as impaired reasoning or judgement, but have for example trouble remembering names of people they met recently, remembering the flow of a conversation and a greater tendency to misplace things. The risk of developing dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease is increased in people with MCI.


Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. It has generally been assumed that this is because cardiovascular conditions, which are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, are common complications of diabetes. It is now understood that the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease often do not use glucose properly, and seem to be in a type of diabetic state, even though the person is not diabetic. In these cases, it seems that the production of insulin in the brain is either reduced, or the brain cells become insensitive to it.

Head injury

Trauma to the brain, particularly repeated concussions, is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease later in life

Other factors that have been documented as possible risk factors include a history of episodes of clinical depression and chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Other risk factors include alcohol consumption and smoking, although their connection with Alzheimer's disease has not been firmly established.

Is there a cure?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerating illness of the brain. Currently, there is no known cure for the disease. There are, however, treatments that can help alleviate some of its symptoms. In general, these treatments tend to work best when started at the early stage of the disease, so it's a good idea to speak to a doctor as soon as you suspect that it may be Alzheimer's disease.