November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurological condition that mainly affects elderly individuals. When you look at the numbers, it’s astounding that about 5.8 million Americans are living with this disease. As you reach an age over 65, the number of people having it doubles every five years.

By 2050-2060, we’re projected to have about 14 million people with Alzheimer’s disease in our country. So, what is it? What is this disease? How does it affect individuals? How can you start combating the risk for it today? That’s what we’d like to talk about during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

One of the first things I’d like to discuss is a pioneer in Alzheimer’s research – Dr. Dale Bredesen at the Buck Institute at UCLA. He’s a medical doctor and clinical researcher, is probably the top Alzheimer’s researcher in the country, and has made his entire career revolve around it. Through his work, and his book, The End of Alzheimer’s, he is owed much of the credit for what we’re talking about today.

I’ve had the privilege of working with and training under him, becoming one of his certified practitioners. So, a lot of information I’m referring to in this article will come from his research, as well as my studies through the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) and the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine (A4M).

First, what is Alzheimer’s? It’s a disease, primarily of the brain, that deals with degeneration of neurons. People focus on the hippocampus, which is where memory sits under circadian rhythm, sleep, day & night rhythms, noise, things of that nature. With Alzheimer’s, you also see generalized atrophy of the brain, especially in the hippocampus and the area around the ventricles, but you can see it throughout.

As we all get older, we lose brain mass. With Alzheimer’s, it’s a quick aging process of the brain. Similar to COPD, arthritis, heart disease and other inflammatory disorders, Alzheimer’s picks an organ and affects it, but it has other effects throughout the body.

So, what kinds of Alzheimer’s diseases are there? Let’s review them.

There are actually six types of Alzheimer’s disease: Type 1, Type 1.5, Type 2, Type 3, Type 4, and Type 5. Most people can be categorized underneath one of these, even though some share characteristics of the other types.

Type 1 Alzheimer’s is also referred to as the inflammatory type. This type of Alzheimer’s, from a testing perspective, is noted to have elevated markers of inflammation like elevated homocysteine, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (SED), ferritin and other markers that are associated with inflammation of small artery vessels, as well as other parts of the body.

Type 2 Alzheimer’s disease is also referred to as atrophic or deficiency Alzheimer’s. This is related to some kind of deficiency in the body of the person. Typically, you’ll have hormone deficiencies of testosterone in males, estrogen in females, or pregnenolone, which is the major hormone from memory. You also see nutrient deficiencies, such as Vitamin B and D.

Type 1.5 Alzheimer’s is also referred to as glycotoxic type. Sometimes this type of Alzheimer’s is also referred to as Type 3 diabetes, where the effects of the diabetes are mainly felt in the brain.

Type 3 Alzheimer’s is the toxic type. This is typically related to heavy metal exposure – mercury and lead being the most common – and also infections like Lyme disease. One interesting study showed that up to 80% of individuals with Alzheimer’s had an infection in their brain by spirochete, which could have been either from the mouth or related to Lyme disease. The toxicants can also include chemicals in the environment, such as pesticide exposure. Mold is also a big one here, which I find in many patients.

Type 4 Alzheimer’s is also referred to as vascular type. If you’ve ever heard the term multi-infarct dementia, this is where this falls into play. When someone gets a CAT scan or MRI, you’ll see multiple small white dots in the brain that represent microclots in the small arteries that affect those areas of the brain. Over time, these can build and build until the person has full-blown Alzheimer’s.

Finally, Type 5 Alzheimer’s is traumatic type. A severe form of this, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is typically found in boxers or football players from head injuries.  People often forget that car accidents, micro concussions from playing football, college sports, or even having a couple of concussions in your life can result in a Type 5 diagnosis. In order to differentiate between these types, you obviously need to see someone who’s skilled in this. (Typically someone who has been professionally trained as a part of Dr. Bredesen’s protocol and can actually help walk the individual through this.)

Ultimately, if you or your loved ones are suffering with symptoms, getting with a practitioner who has been trained to Dr. Bredesen’s network can be very helpful. He has set up certain resources where they hold monthly town hall meetings so you can learn directly from him and his team about how to navigate the world of Alzheimer’s and maintain your cognitive health.