When healthy, the human brain has billions of neurons that send information back and forth through chemical and electrical channels and signals. These neurons help send messages from the brain to different parts of your body and various parts of the brain. But what happens when these signals are disrupted?
Alzheimer’s disease’s subtle changes are progressive, and research has shown that these changes can progress over the course of 20 years. The disease cuts off the signals that are being sent between the neurons, which causes cell death in the brain and loss of function elsewhere in the body.
What happens to the brain?
A healthy brain does not typically lose neurons in any significant number as the body ages. However, when someone has Alzheimer’s disease, the damage becomes so severe that a large number of neurons no longer function. Once they stop communicating with other neurons, they begin to die.
In the beginning, Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects memory. As the disease progresses, it begins to affect areas of the brain that are responsible for reasoning, language, and social behavior. Slowly, someone with Alzheimer’s begins to lose their ability to function on their own and live independently of round-the-clock care.
As Alzheimer’s progresses and destroys more parts of the brain, the disease eventually becomes fatal.
Formation of Plaques
In a brain with Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal levels of beta-amyloid 42, a protein that collects between the neurons, stick together and begin to form plaques. The collection of these plaques happens between the neurons, which then disrupts the way these cells can function.
In a healthy brain, there are cells called glial cells that are meant to help keep the brain healthy and clean. The glial cell destroys toxins or waste and supports a healthy brain free of debris. However, these glial cells build up in a brain with Alzheimer’s disease and cause chronic inflammation.
In Alzheimer’s patients, there tend to be issues with the way blood vessels carry blood to different parts of the body, including the brain. These vascular tissues can hinder blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which causes issues with the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier typically protects the brain, but without it, the brain is vulnerable to different toxins and issues.
What do the symptoms look like?
The impairment of the brain begins with symptoms that affect memory. Someone with Alzheimer’s may start to struggle with short-term memory loss, fogginess, and forgetfulness. They may also have difficulty with time. They will slowly struggle to remember the time or conceptualize how long it’s been throughout the day.
Language problems often come next. Alzheimer’s patients may develop something called aphasia, which is the loss of the ability to understand or express speech. Aphasia is caused by brain damage. Patients may have trouble remembering certain words, or they may consistently use the incorrect word.
Many Alzheimer’s patients go from short-term memory loss to long-term memory loss as the disease progresses. They will eventually begin to lose their ability to recognize their loved ones. Patients may not recognize their spouses or children or mistake strangers for people they once knew.
The Role of Early Detection
Currently, the existing methods of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease tend to be expensive and cannot detect the disease at an early enough stage where treatment can be most effective. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early prevention and intervention can significantly affect the patient’s quality of life.
Existing methods of diagnostics can take up to five hours, and the average cost is around $5,000. Cost is a barrier for many people worldwide who live with Alzheimer’s disease. At any given time, about 50% to 80% of patients are suffering from the disease but lack a proper diagnosis.
What is Cognes?
Cognes is part of the future of Alzheimer’s diagnostics. Early detection is crucial in the treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as in the research to find a cure. Brain changes can occur with Alzheimer’s disease for up to 20 years before any cognitive symptoms appear.
Cognes is designed to be used with a smartphone app, allowing patients to do self-assessments at home, greatly expanding the pool of patients who have access to diagnosis. Cognes uses machine learning analysis of facial images combined with cognitive assessments to diagnose the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease accurately.
Facial expressions have been used to analyze and diagnose cognitive impairment, and cerebral blood flow is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These issues can be spotted using AI technology that analyzes facial images. This, combined with the cognitive assessments, allows for some of the earliest assessments of Alzheimer’s to date.
The benefits of early diagnosis are clear, not just for the patient. Over one million patients are currently waiting to be screened for Alzheimer’s, concerning research on the disease. Screening these patients and getting them through the system would greatly benefit the search for a cure.
The effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain are devastating, as are the effects of the disease on the patient’s loved ones. While Alzheimer’s currently has no cure and is, at its end, a fatal disease, detecting the disease at its earliest possible moment can help with the prevention of dementia.
Patients deserve access to a diagnosis that is quick, efficient, and affordable. Our current diagnostic criteria are sometimes incapable of providing patients with the diagnosis they need in a timely manner. Cognes is looking to push for early diagnosis for a broader range of patients.
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s will save money for patients and hospitals alike and extend the lives of patients who are suffering from this disease. Prevention is the key to helping solve Alzheimer’s disease, and early diagnosis is key to prevention.