Alzheimer’s is something I follow in the science world very closely. As someone who has it running on both sides of the family, it’s a very real disease to me. Starting from an early age, I watched my only living grandmother go through Alzheimer’s firsthand.
I started noticing the effects when my Grammy started telling stories twice in a row for a few days. I used to tell her “Grammy, you just told me that yesterday!” and when she thought about it, she would recall that she had. Then it started happening every day, then every conversation.
Next she started to forget little details: bus schedules, names of distant relatives, recipe ingredients, neighbors, etc. Then came the big details: close relative names, where she put her purse/wallet, and certain words in English. (Her native language was Portuguese and she started forgetting English the more disease took hold.)
Eventually she started forgetting really big things: her husband’s death a few years earlier, her own children’s names, where she was, what the date was. She ended up calling me by my Mom’s name (we look very much alike) and asked how my kids and husband were every time she saw me.
At first I was really upset that she didn’t remember who I was and would try to remind her. I realized that began to upset her, so I started going with the flow and not worrying too much about it. It didn’t matter anymore who she thought I was… I knew her as my Grammy and I loved her just the same.
This article from Science Daily shows a possible link between sporadic Alzheimer’s disease and prions.
"The underlying mechanism of Alzheimer's disease is very similar to the prion diseases. It involves a normal protein that becomes misshapen and is able to spread by transforming good proteins to bad ones. The bad proteins accumulate in the brain, forming plaque deposits that are believed to kill neuron cells in Alzheimer's."
I learned all about prions at college and found them to be fascinatingly scary. They create other prions out of normal proteins they come into contact with them. This creates a nearly unstoppable chain reaction in the body and can lead to severe problems like tissue damage/death. It's still unknown what causes the prions in the first place. I place my bet on random mutation, but it's hard to say.
Other prion diseases include the famous “Mad Cow”, Kuru (the shaking disease), and the lesser-known human version of Mad Cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob.