Health & Fitness
TIME Science of Alzheimer's

TIME Science of Alzheimer's

TIME Science of Alzheimer's

Confusing, mysterious and unknown, Alzheimer's is among the most-feared diseases because it strikes indiscriminately and there is no known cure. Now, in The Science of Alzheimer's, a new Special Edition from the editors of TIME, we draw back the curtain to reveal the latest research on what the disease is and what it is not, and how science is working to make Alzheimer's a manageable problem with a hopeful long-term prognosis, akin to diabetes or HIV. Go inside the latest research on different types of dementia, hereditary and environmental causes, new treatments, and more. Helpful lifestyle tips show how to ward off mental decline as we age, and case histories—including the stories of musician Glen Campbell and President Ronald Reagan, who bravely shared their diagnoses with the world—reveal the human face of Alzheimer's. We also look at the latest drugs being used to treat the disease and how there is hope in recent treatments and protocols, as well as alternative treatments that may be making a difference. Packed with authoritative information from the health editors at TIME, this guide helps everyone understand a frightening disease—and recognize the strides that are being made to fight it.

United States
Meredith Corporation
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in this issue

3 min.
the disease that steals the self

THE BRAIN SPENDS ITS ENTIRE LIFE WITHOUT EVER seeing the light. It is a thing grown in the darkness of the womb and then encased in a dome of bone before ever being released into the world. Barring catastrophic injury or the intervention of surgery, it will forever remain unseen and untouched. But that’s all right, because the brain is also its own self-contained universe. It may be just coincidence that so much of our brain tissue is made up of astrocytes—star-shaped bodies that number in the tens of billions and crackle with their own kind of mysterious cosmic energy—but if so, it’s a coincidence rich with meaning. Like the universe, the brain teems with a power we can never fully fathom. It is the seat of reason, love, art, music,…

10 min.
alzheimer’s: a tutorial

THE LOSS OF A HUMAN MIND—THE GRADUAL DETERIORATION OF A LIFEtime’s worth of wisdom, experience and personal relationships—is a tragedy. For the 5.8 million Americans diagnosed with Alz heimer’s disease, as well as their countless caregivers, that tragedy is a daily reality. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of age-related dementia, which is an umbrella term for a variety of cognitive struggles—from memory loss to confused thinking—that impair day-to-day life. About 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. over age 65 has Alzheimer’s, and it is the sixth leading cause of death nationwide, according to the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association. Two thirds of Alz heimer’s patients are women—mostly because women tend to live longer than men, and the risk for Alzheimer’s increases dramatically with age. There is currently no cure for the disease…

8 min.
when disease strikes early

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE IS ALMOST UNIVERSALLY thought of as an affliction of old age—a time when the inevitable slowing down of the body is accompanied by a devastating breakdown of the mind. And in the vast majority of cases, that perception is accurate. Age is by far the greatest risk factor for the disease, and roughly 97% of Alz heimer’s patients are 65 or older—with most receiving a diagnosis in their 70s or 80s. But for the remaining 3% of Alz heimer’s patients—or roughly 200,000 American adults—the disease appears before age 65. Experts term this “younger” or “early-onset” Alz heimer’s. And while aspects of the disease are much the same regardless of when it strikes, the underlying triggers and symptoms can differ among patients who experience early-onset Alz heimer’s compared with those…

4 min.
a beast with many heads

LIKE MOST BAD THINGS, DEMENTIA IS MORE complicated than it seems. Before doctors and patients can even begin to decide on a route of treatment for late-life cognitive decline, they first have to know exactly what species of the disease they’re dealing with—and there are several, each with its own name and symptoms and pathological mechanisms. Understanding the differences among the various types of dementia can also be important for family members and other caregivers who want to know what to expect as the condition progresses, and calibrate their care accordingly. Perhaps most important, unraveling the precise changes in the brain that cause the various conditions—plaque buildup, vascular abnormalities, neurotransmitter problems and more—is critical for researchers looking for better drugs and therapies. While there are numerous categories of dementia, there is…

3 min.
the role of genetics

A Breast-Cancer Link to Alzheimer’s Since 1994, scientists have known that mutations in the BRCA gene can contribute to a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Now researchers say the gene may also play a part in the nerve death that’s responsible for Alz heimer’s disease. Reporting in the journal Nature Communications in 2015, Lennart Mucke and his colleagues at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease reported finding that the BRCA gene not only affects the way cells can grow, thus promoting cancer, but can also influence nerve cells’ ability to repair their DNA. And that can have a profound impact in the brain. Mucke bred mice with one variation of the BRCA gene, BRCA1, which produces a signature protein that also goes by the name BRCA1. In mice with down-regulated genes…

3 min.
timing of alzheimer’s may depend on parents

WATCHING AN AGING PARENT STRUGGLE WITH ALZheimer’s disease means two kinds of pain: grief for the decline and impending loss of a loved one and worry about what it means for the next generations. If Alz heimer’s has a genetic component—and it does—does that mean that your parent’s suffering will soon enough be your suffering? The good news is that the answer is probably no. Genetically determined Alz heimer’s disease is one of the rarest types—accounting for fewer than 1% of overall cases. More often, the disease is what is known as “sporadic,” caused by a suite of variables, including age, overall health and environmental factors, with genes playing just one part. To the extent that genetics is involved, however, there is still something to be learned from a parent’s bout with…