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HomeExclusiveHow Does The Normal Brain Compared With The Alzheimer's Brain

How Does The Normal Brain Compared With The Alzheimer’s Brain

All This Research Throws Up Some Interesting Questions

What is dementia? Alzheimer’s Research UK

If a psychopaths brain is different, shouldnt they be treated differently? If a person suffered a brain injury then went on to commit a crime, we would not send them to prison. So why do we continue to incarcerate psychopaths when we know their brains do not function the same way normal ones do?

Buckholtz wants society to see psychopaths the same way we see other people with poor impulse control and decision-making. He wants us to see them as people with brain deficits that need our help. Unfortunately, it might be a long time before we are able to do that.


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Dementia With Lewy Bodies

The brain of a person with dementia with Lewy bodies often shows less overall shrinkage than the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s or FTD. Instead, tiny deposits of protein are seen in the cerebral cortex, limbic system and brain stem.

In DLB, early damage is seen in the visual pathways and – in some studies – also in the frontal lobes. This may explain why problems with vision and attention are common early symptoms of DLB.

Similarly, Lewy bodies in the brain stem may be linked to the problems with movement, as also seen in Parkinson’s disease.

Dementia Connect support line

Loss Of Neuronal Connections And Cell Death

In Alzheimers 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 Alzheimers, this processcalled brain atrophyis widespread, causing significant loss of brain volume.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease from MedlinePlus.

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What Is Normal Brain Aging

Everyones brain ages, but its not what most people think. The old idea of brain aging is that your neurons, your brain cells, started to die off by the time you were 20 and continued to die through your lifespan.

Now we know thats not true. In fact, until you are up in your 90s, you lose less than 10 percent of the cells in your brain.

What happens in normal brain aging is not loss of the cells. We know that brain cells change in their structure. They become smaller over time and they actually shrink.

Thats one of the reasons why we see shrinkage of the aging brain. But the good part of that is that Carol Barnes, who is an internationally famous neuroscientist studying aging, found that even though those cells are shrinking, their effectiveness is increased.

So, the connections are boosted between the cells so they can maintain a lot of their function even though they get smaller.

And actually she found two things:

  • One is that many of these connections become stronger. Theyre compensating for the loss of the numbers of connections between cells.
  • But at the same time, she also found that sometimes they kind of misfire. So, young brains are more consistent in their connections. Whereas, in an older brain, the way cells communicate with each other might be a little bit more hit-or-miss.

We can see that, in her Barnes maze, older rats sometimes made a mistake but they didnt forget where to go. We dont lose information or memories with normal brain aging.

Early Warning Signs And Diagnosis


Alzheimers Disease can be caught in the early stageswhen the best treatments are availableby watching for telltale warning signs. If you recognize the warning signs in yourself or a loved one, make an appointment to see your physician right away. Brain imaging technology can diagnose Alzheimers early, improving the opportunities for symptom management.

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Fact: In Normal Brain Aging It Takes Longer To Acquire New Information

There are a few things that change in memory with age. One of them is that as you get older, you have a little more difficulty learning new information.

So, when youre trying to acquire a new skill or new information, its going to take you a little bit longer. However, once you acquire it, you will retain it just as well as young people do.

Its as if the system is getting a little inefficient. But once you gain that knowledge, you maintain that information.

Carol Barnes has shown that the synapses are less consistent. Its almost like you are trying to learn in a noisy environment. It will take you a little bit longer to get it. You might have to apply a little bit more effort and attention to learn it, but once you do, it will stay. Youre not going to forget.

And thats very different than what you see in Alzheimers disease. Alzheimers patients will have difficulty in learning and are also unable to maintain that information, so they forget faster.

In normal aging, we dont see faster forgetting.

For example, you might be less likely to grasp or maintain or learn new information if youre in an environment that isnt conducive. It might be noisy, you might have distractions around, but you can make sure that youre in a quiet place. You might not do well learning in the middle of Starbucks anymore.

Learning and Repetition

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior. In Alzheimer’s disease, large numbers of neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die.

Irreversible and progressive, Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living.

Although the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, scientists believe that a build-up of beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain are associated with the disease.

The stages of the disease typically progress from mild to moderate to severe. Symptoms usually develop slowly and gradually worsen over a number of years however, progression and symptoms vary from person to person. The first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease usually appears as forgetfulness.

Mild cognitive impairment is a stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with everyday activities. Not everyone with MCI develops Alzheimer’s disease.

Other early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include language problems, difficulty performing tasks that require thought, personality changes and loss of social skills.

People with severe Alzheimer’s disease are unable to recognize family members or understand language.

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Tangles And Cell Death

In normal brain tissue, a protein called tau stabilizes microtubules. Microtubules are key parts of cell structure.

In a diseased brain, protein strands, or threads, become tangled. As a result, the brain system of transporting cell nutrients along parallel structures which can be compared to railroad tracks falls apart.

Without these critical nutrients, brain cells die.

Memory and thinking depend on the transmission of signals across 100 billion neurons in the brain.

AD interferes with this cell signal transmission. It also affects the activity of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

The scrambled chemistry produces flawed signaling, so the brains messages are lost. This impacts the ability to learn, remember, and communicate.

Microglia are a type of cell that initiate immune responses in the brain and spinal cord. When AD is present, microglia interpret the beta-amyloid plaque as cell injury.

The microglia go into overdrive, stimulating inflammation that further damages brain cells.

Some AD research focuses on how this inflammatory response can be reduced or controlled.

Fact: Learning New Things Does Not Mean Getting A Formal Education

What Does Alzheimers Do to the Human Brain?

Learning new things does not imply attending any type of formal education. You may watch a documentary about nature and learn new things about animals and flowers.

A lot of people, as they get older, learn new skills. Some take up woodworking, knitting, oil painting, others become birdwatchers. I was just out for a couple of days with a friend of mine who took up bird watching when she retired. She knows all these birds now and can identify them by the sound, their shape, etc.

All of those activities require you to use your brain and in many cases use your hands, use your body. And thats perfect when youre using both your brain and your body. Both your body and your brain can learn.

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Differences In The Adhd Brain

ADHD is a condition that comes under a lot of scrutiny. Naysayers question if it is real or say it is caused by lack of motivation, willpower, or bad parentingnone of which is true. However, if you or your child has ADHD, you can feel vulnerable to these comments.

Knowing that there are biological differences in the ADHD braincompared to the brain of a person who does not have ADHDfeels validating. The difference can be divided into three areas: structure, function, and chemistry.

Vascular Contributions To Alzheimers Disease

People with dementia seldom have only Alzheimers-related changes in their brains. Any number of vascular issuesproblems that affect blood vessels, such as beta-amyloid deposits in brain arteries, atherosclerosis , and mini-strokesmay also be at play.

Vascular problems may lead to reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain, as well as a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, which usually protects the brain from harmful agents while allowing in glucose and other necessary factors. In a person with Alzheimers, a faulty blood-brain barrier prevents glucose from reaching the brain and prevents the clearing away of toxic beta-amyloid and tau proteins. This results in inflammation, which adds to vascular problems in the brain. Because it appears that Alzheimers is both a cause and consequence of vascular problems in the brain, researchers are seeking interventions to disrupt this complicated and destructive cycle.

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Cognitive Changes With Aging

Certain cognitive abilities show at least a small decline with advanced age in many, but not all, healthy individuals. Although differences between the young and elderly can be shown in some cognitive areas described below, declining ability does not translate into impairment of daily activities. These changes are subtle. The most consistent change is cognitive slowing. For example, on a writing task in which people were asked to substitute as quickly as possible symbols for numbers, 20-year-olds performed the task almost 75 percent faster on average than 75-year olds. Age-related slowing is also evident on certain attentional tasks, such as trying to grasp a telephone number when someone rattles it off quickly. Overall, cognitive slowing is thought to be a contributing factor in elderly peoples higher rate of automobile accidents per miles driven.2

Age hinders attention, particularly when it is necessary to multitask. When switching from one task to another, the elderly have more difficulty paying attention to multiple lanes of traffic, for example, or noticing if someone is about to step off a curb at a busy intersection. Processing information rapidly and dividing attention effectively are cognitive skills that peak in young adulthood. How fortunate it is that college and vocational students are typically at an age when the brain is working with optimum efficiency.

Dementia: A Set Of Symptoms

Science Source

Many people think that dementia constitutes a diagnosis in and of itself, but it describes a set of symptoms that can result from several different disorders of the brain.

The symptoms that dementia encompasses revolve around mental deterioration with a level of severity that affects the sufferers daily life. If you begin experiencing dementia, you may notice signs in a variety of different brain functions: recalling recent information, understanding symbols and maps, writing and speaking, reasoning, solving problems and other comprehension issues.

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Dementia Symptoms And Areas Of The Brain

Knowing how different types of dementia affect the brain helps explain why someone with dementia might behave in a certain way.

  • You are here: Dementia symptoms and areas of the brain
  • Dementia and the brain

    Until recently, seeing changes in the brain relied on studying the brain after the person had died. But modern brain scans may show areas of reduced activity or loss of brain tissue while the person is alive. Doctors can study these brain scans while also looking at the symptoms that the person is experiencing.

    The most common types of dementia each start with shrinkage of brain tissue that may be restricted to certain parts of the brain.

    Is Alzheimers Disease Different Than Dementia

    Alzheimers disease is the most common of several types of dementia. Over time, the disease causes damage to the brains nerve cells with symptoms worsening as an increasing number of cells suffer damage. In Alzheimers disease, there is also a loss of nerve cells as part of the dementia that goes above and beyond the minor loss of nerve cells in normal aging.

    The disease occasionally strikes people in their 40s and 50s or even younger, but sufferers tend to be over the age of 65. Alzheimers patients often initially notice symptoms like forgetfulness that can affect their work and home lives.

    Additional symptoms include changes in mood along with misplacing items, repeating statements or questions, becoming confused or lost, and having problems with multitasking and verbalizing thoughts. There is no cure for Alzheimers, but treatments can help control the disease, especially when it is diagnosed early in its progression.

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    Normal Aging In The Brain

    All parts of the human body are subject to the effects of time. There is simply no way to avoid it, though the makers of numerous beauty and supplement products would likely disagree. The brain goes through several physical changes as we reach an advanced age :

    • Some brain areas shrink
    • Inflammation is more likely to occur
    • Veins and other parts of the vascular system deteriorate
    • Hormone levels change

    As may be expected, these biological developments are accompanied by some alterations in mental processes, such as:

    • Loss of older memories
    • Less retention time for new information
    • Trouble finding the right words from time to time
    • Occasionally forgetting names
    • Reduced ability to multitask
    • Slower overall mental processing

    It is very difficult to predict how aging will impact mental functions on a person to person basis. Individuals exhibit a unique mix of symptoms due to brain aging, and it is likely that certain effects will be more prominent than others. Some people may display little to no ill effects at all.

    Aging With Alzheimers And Other Dementias

    Brain size and shape

    Unfortunately, a significant portion of the population will be stricken with an age-related disorder like Alzheimers or another form of dementia . There are no physical brain changes shared between all types of these disorders, though specific conditions may be identified by the presence of biological features that are not a part of normal aging:

    • Alzheimers disease is associated with the abnormal accumulation of proteins in the brain, resulting in the formation of plaques and tangles.
    • Lewy body dementia is also linked to abnormal protein accumulation in the brain, but of a different variety than Alzheimers disease.
    • Vascular dementia is a result of damage to the brains vascular system due to a medical condition or traumatic injury.
    • Frontotemporal dementias are a group of afflictions that are identified by a significant reduction in the amount of matter in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

    There are no physical symptoms shared among all dementia-related disorders. However, there are a number of behavioral changes that may serve as common signs of abnormal cognitive decline:

    • Becoming lost in familiar areas
    • Quickly forgetting recent events
    • Changes to diet and sleep habits

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    Why Do Protein Deposits Form In The First Place

    Researchers want to know why these protein aggregates form in the first place, how they distribute in the brain, how their signalling works, and how they and their precursors cause neurodegeneration.

    A range of theories have been put forward to explain what kickstarts damaging protein aggregation. In the case of Alzheimers, this includes problems with the way oxygen is metabolised in brain cells and the movement of internal cell contents. The brains response to inflammation, and its systems for clearing waste could also play a role.

    One main theory is that once amyloid-ß begins to accumulate, it then promotes the build-up of tau. But the relationship is not simple, because tau also has a role in influencing the toxic effects of amyloid-ß.

    Although some genetic risk factors for dementias have been identified, particularly for Alzheimers disease , we still dont know how these act to influence protein aggregation and cause degeneration. This is a key area of research focus, and knowing the answers to these questions is crucial to the prevention and treatment of dementia.

    Studies Of The Brains Of Psychopaths

    One study examined the differences in brains of criminals who were incarcerated after committing the worse kinds of criminal acts. Before the study, the prisoners completed the Hare Psychopathic Checklist. This is the industry standard test which asks questions to determine whether a person has psychopathic tendencies.

    Another study scanned the brains of prisoners who had high scores for psychopathy on the same checklist.

    The studies found significant differences in these areas in the brains of psychopaths:

  • Amygdala
  • So why are these particular areas important when it comes to psychopathic behaviour?

    The Function of the Amygdala

    The amygdala is our emotional centre. It is responsible for the perception of our primary emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, love, as well as controlling our impulses and aggression.

    The amygdala is also a key part of our learning processes. It teaches us about the society we live in in other words, acceptable rules and boundaries. Furthermore, it reinforces what is dangerous and helps us to recognise threats and danger.

    In the study, psychopaths were shown a series of disturbing images. Some were fearful faces, others depicted moral violations. In a psychopaths brain, activity in the amygdala was significantly reduced when they viewed the disturbing images.

    This means that a psychopath has not learned to live within societal rules. They dont recognise normal etiquette or boundaries. Looking at people who are frightened doesnt bother them.

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