The amyloid plaques involved in Alzheimer’s come in several different molecular forms that collect between neurons and are formed from the breakdown of a larger protein, amyloid precursor protein. In the Alzheimer’s brain, abnormal levels of this naturally occurring protein clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons that disrupt cell function.
Neurofibrillary tangles are abnormal accumulations of the protein tau that collects inside neurons. Healthy neurons, in part, are supported internally by structures called microtubules. In healthy neurons, tau normally binds to and stabilizes microtubules. In Alzheimer’s disease, however, abnormal chemical changes cause tau to detach from microtubules and stick to other tau molecules, forming threads that eventually join to form tangles inside neurons. These tangles block the neuron’s transport system, harming the synaptic communication between neurons.
Emerging evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s-related brain changes may result from a complex interplay among abnormal tau and amyloid plaque proteins and several other factors. It appears that abnormal tau accumulates in specific brain regions involved in memory. Amyloid clumps into plaques between neurons. As the level of amyloid plaques reaches a tipping point, there is a rapid spread of tau throughout the brain.
Research suggests that chronic inflammation may be caused by the buildup of glial cells normally meant to help keep the brain free of debris. One type of glial cell, microglia, engulfs and destroys waste and toxins in a healthy brain. In Alzheimer’s, microglia fail to clear away waste, debris, and protein collections, including amyloid plaques.
In Alzheimer’s disease, as neurons are injured and die throughout the brain, connections between networks of neurons may break down, and many brain regions begin to shrink. By the final stages of Alzheimer’s, this process—called brain atrophy—is widespread, causing significant loss of brain volume.
A Mediterranean diet—including beans, fish (or vegetarian substitutes), fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, whole grains—contributes to a healthy brain and heart.
During deep sleep the natural cleaners of your brain—microglia—remove unwanted particles. The recommendation is at least 7 hours each night.
There is evidence that resveratrol, a natural antioxidant in red wine, dark chocolate, and grapes, may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s (in moderation, of course).
Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, reduces Alzheimer’s–related senile plaques and inflammation, and enhances the birth of new neural stem cells.
Having an active social life increases brain activity, reduces stress, and may both trigger and preserve memories. It also helps to ward off depression, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
It appears that people with high and persistent levels of stress are at increased risk for mild cognitive impairment. Schedule daily activities like meditation, yoga, or spending time with your pet.
When you learn a new, challenging skill such as photography, quilting or playing a musical instrument, you are strengthening the neural networks in your brain.
Listening to music can evoke emotion and trigger memories. Singing or playing a musical instrument has been shown to help build neural networks.
Some studies have linked poor oral hygiene to dementia—possibly due to increased inflammation or bacteria reaching the brain. A regular visit to your dentist is recommended.