Plaques and Tangles… And Not the Kind on Your Teeth or in Your Hair!

To many, dementia is unknown. It’s saddening, it’s hard, it’s debilitating. But why? What is it exactly and why does it happen? There are so many questions; especially for those of us who see it on a daily basis, or have had loved ones suffer from the disease. As a memory care facility the staff at BayView Point Loma is specially trained in dementia care. What does that mean? So, you know how to redirect someone who may be wandering? You understand people may do or say things that make no sense to anyone? Actually it means we take the approach of learning about the disease biologically, first, then apply the skills we learn in serving those living with dementia. We attend many hours of required training each year, geared toward the understanding of the disease, what causes it, how it can be avoided, or how it can be identified in someone, scientifically. It helps us as we care for those needing assistance with things like combing their hair, eating, or brushing their teeth, to name a few of the basic needs that become increasingly difficult for dementia residents.

That is where plaque and tangles come in. Aside from bed head in the morning or a recent dentist appointment, do you know what plaques and tangles are in terms of brain health? Let us try and put it into words we all can understand, not just the scientists studying these things behind microscopes! A great place to start in understanding this disease is the Alzheimer’s Association. They are a wealth of knowledge with tons of resources available for those suffering from, or with loved ones suffering from any type of dementia. Plaques and tangles are the prime suspects to scientists when it comes to what causes cell death and tissue loss in the brain. Plaques are sticky clumpy buildup that blocks cells from talking to one another. Tangles are twisted tau (rhymes with wow) proteins, which are what help the freeways between cells in the brain stay straight and parallel. When tangles of tau appear, the freeways are no longer straight for food molecules, cell parts, and other key materials to travel. Think of it like the scene in the movie SPEED where the freeway bridge collapses (only the cells don’t have Keanu Reeves behind the wheel to jump the gap)…This causes the cells to die. Is that too simple? Maybe, but it’s important to understand this when grasping what biomarkers are used by scientists in identifying someone with signs of the disease, preventing the disease, and finding a cure. How, you may ask? Scientists can measure the amount of plaque in the spinal column which can tell them how much plaque is being released from the brain or not, signaling if there is plaque building up in the brain, which could cause Alzheimer’s due to the reasons mentioned above. We think this video from the Khan Academy does a great job of explaining Alzheimer’s disease, and the many still unknowns: Alzheimer’s disease: Plaques and tangles. We hope this information is helpful, and are happy to help provide additional resources for you whatever you’re looking for in terms of elderly health, memory care, and disease prevention.