What causes Alzheimer's disease? What starts and promotes the disease process that leads to an overabundance of beta-amyloid, a buildup of plaques and tangles, and loss of function and death among brain cells?
Increasingly, scientists agree that there is probably no one cause of this most complicated disease. They are identifying and studying many contributing factors, including genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors, and connections with other diseases of the body.
Dr. Charles DeCarli
Dr. Thomas Beach
Dr. Suzanne Craft
AD before intranasal insulin and 4 months later
Dr. Richard Hodes of the NIA told us, "Since our understanding of the basic processes underlying the disease is still incomplete, science has to remain very open to multiple hypotheses. These are not competing hypotheses, because they may not be mutually exclusive."
Dr. Dennis Selkoe, one of the originators of the amyloid hypothesis, recognizes that many elements besides beta-amyloid are at work. "Alzheimer's disease is a multifactorial disease, that's absolutely true. Our current knowledge suggests beta-amyloid is a necessary and sufficient factor for inducing the condition we call Alzheimer's disease. However, it has a lot of bad helpers. Targeting one of these helpers may have a powerful influence on risk—look at how much lowering LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream decreases the likelihood of heart attack or stroke."
Because the ultimate goal of medical research is the prevention and treatment of disease, it is important not to target just one cause or develop only one therapeutic strategy. As Dr. Lennart Mucke says, "We should not put all our money down on one particular disease target, certainly not at this stage when many clinical trials have failed. There is great reason for hope that recent insights will lead us to a combination of effective treatments. We need to support further research in many areas with more energy, more people, more programs, and more funding."
Next: Vascular Disease
Excerpted from THE ALZHEIMER'S PROJECT: MOMENTUM IN SCIENCE, published by Public Affairs, www.publicaffairsbooks.com.
In This Section
- Vascular Disease
- Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
- Connecting Alzheimer's Disease to Vascular Disease
- Vascular Injury
- Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
- The Problem of Cholesterol
- What's Good for the Heart is Good for the Brain
- Atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's Disease
- Associating Alzheimer's Disease with Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
- Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
- Insulin in the Brain
Momentum in Science: The Supplementary Series
- Understanding and Attacking Alzheimer's 12 min
- How Far We Have Come in Alzheimer's Research 15 min
- Identifying Mild Cognitive Impairment 20 min
- The Role of Genetics in Alzheimer's 12 min
- Advances in Brain Imaging 11 min
- Looking Into the Future of Alzheimer's 6 min
- The Connection Between Insulin and Alzheimer's 21 min
- Inflammation, the Immune System, and Alzheimer's 29 min
- The Benefit of Diet and Exercise in Alzheimer's 16 min
- Cognitive Reserve: What the Religious Orders Study is Revealing about Alzheimer's 20 min
- Searching for an Alzheimer's Cure: The Story of Flurizan 30 min
- The Pulse of Drug Development 15 min
- The DeMoe Family: Early-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics 25 min
- The Nanney/Felts Family: Late-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics 20 min
- The Quest for Biomarkers 17 min
Video: Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer's Disease
This 4-minute captioned video shows the progression of Alzheimer's disease in the brain.
Inside the Brain: An Interactive Tour
The Brain Tour explains how the brain works and how Alzheimer's affects it.
Alzheimer's Disease: Unraveling the Mystery
This book explains what AD is, describes the main areas in which researchers are working, and highlights new approaches for helping families and friends care for people with AD.
- About The Scientists
Connect with Alzheimer's Research
Find out how you can participate in clinical trials or studies, find a research center, or get up-to-date information at 1-800-438-4380.
The Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline provides reliable information and support to all those who need assistance. Call us toll-free anytime day or night at 1-800-272-3900.
- Create A Tribute
Honor someone you care about and share your stories by contributing to The Tribute Wall on Facebook.
The Alzheimer's Association message boards and chat rooms are your online communication forum. Share your thoughts and experiences, query your colleagues, and make new friends.
- Rapid advances in our knowledge about AD have led to the development of promising new drugs and treatment strategies. However, before these new strategies can be used in clinical practice, they must be shown to work in people. Advances in prevention and treatment are only possible thanks to volunteers who participate in clinical trials.
- Among those touched by Alzheimer's (excluding self), nearly one-third provide support as a friend or relative, another 3% provide support as a healthcare professional, and the remaining two-thirds provide no support to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. When support is provided, it most often entails emotional support, followed by care-giving support. While small in comparison, more than one person in ten is providing financial support. Read more.