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How does Alzheimer's disease affect the body?

Alzheimer's disease affects the brain. The disease causes degeneration of brain tissue and nerve cells. With less nerve cells present, it becomes harder for the brain to communicate with the body and function properly. Specifically, the neurotransmitter (a chemical that passes among cells relaying messages) acetylcholine isn't produced at a high enough volume. This chemical is needed in order for your brain to learn, concentrate or remember information. With low levels of acetylcholine, those functions begin to decrease.

The massive loss of brain cells that occurs in advanced Alzheimer's disease causes the brain to wither and shrink. In the Alzheimer's brain, the outer layer (cortex) shrivels up, damaging areas involved in thinking, planning, and remembering. The hippocampus, a structure that plays a vital role in memory formation, is one of the hardest-hit areas.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

In a healthy brain, messages are sent back and forth between neural cells (neurons) via connecting tissue cables (synapses). An overabundance of amyloid plaques (outside the neurons) and/or neurofibrillary tangles (inside the neurons) are the most common features of Alzheimer's disease. Comprised of different proteins, plaques and tangles impair healthy neuron function and cause nerve cells to eventually die off, damaging the brain's intricate web of communication. This damage continues to spread over time, causing overall shrinkage of the brain.

This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com.

Dr. Zaldy S. Tan, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Alzheimer’s disease affects the body by impairing the parts of the brain that allow us to:

  • Form new memories
  • Reason
  • Orient ourselves

As the disease progresses, it spreads to parts of the brain that control walking, swallowing and coordination. In this way, though Alzheimer’s starts out as a problem with memory and thought, it eventually affects the function of the entire body.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.