Alzheimer's Blog

Training and Education

These images represent a cross-section of the brain as seen from the front. The cross-section on the left represents a brain from a normal individual and the one on the right represents a brain with Alzheimer's disease.

In Alzheimer's disease, there is an overall shrinkage of brain tissue. The grooves or furrows in the brain, called sulci (plural of sulcus), are noticeably widened and there is shrinkage of the gyri (plural of gyrus), the well-developed folds of the brain's outer layer. In addition, the ventricles, or chambers within the brain that contain cerebrospinal fluid, are noticeably enlarged.

In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, short-term memory begins to decline (see box labeled ‘memory') when the cells in the hippocampus, which is part of the limbic system, degenerate. The ability to perform routine tasks also declines.

As Alzheimer's disease spreads through the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain), judgment declines, emotional outbursts may occur and language is impaired. Progression of the disease leads to the death of more nerve cells and subsequent behavior changes, such as wandering and agitation.

The ability to recognize faces and to communicate is completely lost in the final stages. Patients lose bowel and bladder control, and eventually need constant care. This stage of complete dependency may last for years before the patient dies. The average length of time from diagnosis to death is 4 to 8 years, although it can take 20 years or more for the disease to run its course.

Courtesy of AHAF