Alzheimer's: how does dementia develop?

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Alzheimer's: how forgetting arises in the brain

Alois Alzheimer, a neurologist, first noted and documented the suffering of a confused patient more than 100 years ago.

In the meantime, the disease, named after the neurologist, has contracted over 24 million people worldwide. A third of the German population, who is over 90 years old, suffers from some form of dementia. The tendency is increasing. The neurologist Alzheimer examined the brain after the death of his elderly patient and discovered that the slow onset of nerve cell decay in the brain region of the hippocampus, protein deposits, so-called plaques, which are located between the nerve cells, are responsible. "Our research still revolves around these protein deposits," says Alexander Drzezga, director of the clinic and polyclinic for nuclear medicine at the University Clinic in Cologne.

The deposits tend to stick together. This creates a lump structure over a long period of time, which among other things leads to the symptoms of dementia. This is a simplified representation of the processes, because several factors affect the brain, which ultimately reacts with Alzheimer's from these processes. For example, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the hormone insulin is involved in the breakdown of the brain. People with type 2 diabetes melitus are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's than others.

"There is still a lot to discover," concludes Lutz Frölich, head of the gerontopsychiatry department at the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim. The diagnosis of “Alzheimer's” could perhaps be a collection of different brain diseases. Medical experts have known for a long time that proteins are already deposited in the brain decades before the first signs of dementia appear without any negative effects on brain performance. The networking of nerve cells from different brain regions with each other probably plays a decisive role.

"The better the networking, the more people are immune to mental deterioration," says Andreas Fellgiebel, head of the memory clinic at the Mainz University Medical Center. And that is exactly where the efforts for the future lie. The doctor wants to research how better networking of nerve cells can be achieved.

According to the alarming outlook of the World Alzheimer's Report 2013, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to more than 115 million people by 2050. Ways of mastering this disease are therefore more than necessary. (fr)

Image: Angela Parszyk /

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Video: Alzheimers and the Brain

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