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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - Alzheimer's Disease

First identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that is treatable, but not curable. Those affected slowly lose memory, thinking and problem-solving skills, and in late stages, even basic skills. According to the NIH, Alzheimer’s Disease is the third leading cause of death of the elderly, behind heart disease and cancer. It generally affects people over age 65.

Alzheimer's brain.  Part of the Qwiz5 series by Qwiz Quizbowl Camp, written to help quiz bowl teams power more tossups!

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at five of its most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Alzheimer’s Disease.


If you don’t learn anything else about Alzheimer’s, learn the term Beta-Amyloid Plaques. Beta-Amyloid is a type of protein which can be found in the fatty membrane surrounding a nerve cell. When these proteins start building up, particularly in clumps around synapses, they interfere with the transfer of signals. This residual buildup is called plaque, and it can also cause problems by triggering an immune response that causes the destruction of the affected nerve cells.


Another common trait in Alzheimer’s patients is a low level of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine (ACh). ACh is connected to a number of functions in the brain, including short-term memory, learning, and muscle activation. It may be that the low levels of ACh in Alzheimer’s patients are caused by the beta-amyloid plaques, which increase activity of acetylcolinesterase, a chemical that breaks down ACh.


Another factor in the progression of Alzheimer’s are Tau Proteins. These proteins are normally found in the axons of nerve cells, and help keep the microtubules that feed the nerve cells straight and strong. In an Alzheimer’s patient, however, the Tau proteins cease to operate in this fashion, particularly when they are affected by a chemical process called phosphorylation.


When the phosphorylated Tau Proteins start to collapse, tangles form in the microtubules, and they begin to break down. This in turn kills off the nerve cells and causes cognitive degeneration. Such damage generally starts in the hippocampus, but spreads throughout the brain as the disease progresses.


Although the causes of Alzheimer’s are still uncertain, research has shown that the presence of the APOE4 allele increases a person’s risk of developing the disease. It also appears to be associated with early onset Alzheimer’s, meaning that the disease manifests at an earlier age than usual. However, this link is not absolute--not everyone with APOE4 will be affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

* While Alzheimer’s has no cure at this time, there are a number of promising treatments for the disease, including drugs such as Galantamine, Donzapil, and Rivastigmine. The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of these and other treatment options here.

* Playing video games may actually be good for you! Read about how some games have been shown to help Alzheimer’s patients in this article from Science Daily.

* The BrightFocus Foundation has a video and transcript of a discussion of music and how it can help Alzheimer’s patients by Dr. Oliver Sacks, the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other books about mental disorders. These are excellent reads for anyone looking to up their game in cognitive psychology!

* The Alzheimer’s Society has a short 4-minute video that helps to explain the concepts in today’s Qwiz5. Check it out here.


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