How Does Alzheimer’s Affect The Brain

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of Dementia and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. The most common association with this disease is memory loss, but what exactly does alzheimer’s physically do to the brain?

Death of Cells

Plaques and tangles form in the brain, and these proteins build up and essentially block connections between neurons and can cause the cells to die. Protein strands become tangled, inhibiting tau (healthy brain protein) to stabilize microtubules and preventing nutrients to get to these cells, causing cell death.

This is believed to cause many of the symptoms that are attributed to Alzheimer’s, but the aspect that causes the disease is still unknown.

Brain Shrinkage

Alzheimer’s disease causes the outside layer of the brain to shrink — specifically the area that covers the part of the brain that allows for planning, recalling information and the ability to concentrate. This also affects the hippocampus, the part responsible for memory. Researchers believe this damage can happen up to a decade in advance, before the symptoms show.

While the brain shrinks, the ventricles and the part which holds the cerebrospinal fluid becomes enlarged. This indicates that healthy brains versus Alzheimer’s brains have very distinct differences.


Cell death in the brain is recognized as an injury to the body, causing inflammation as your body’s way of trying to protect itself, however, the longer it persists, the more damage it ends up doing. In some studies, individuals who have a history of head injuries are at higher risk for developing the disease, and those who often take anti-inflammatory medication have a lower risk.

Nancy is Currently Director of Senior Housing Development at Terra Vista of Oakbrook Terrace.
She is a recognized senior housing leader renowned for creating successful new developments and turning around troubled properties, Nancy McCaffrey boasts over 23 years experience in retirement, assisted living and dementia care. Nancy is a past President of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition (AALC), the Supportive Living Program’s State Association. McCaffrey is a member of Leading Age Illinois, the Assisted Living Federation of America and is an Ambassador Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. Nancy is a graduate of Purdue University.

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