top of page

A Link And Trigger To Alzheimer's Disease

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Alzheimer's disease (AD) affects the memory, thinking, and behavior of those with the disease. The early onset of the disease will create minor disruptions to the day but will eventually lead to a time when the person can no longer care for herself. It is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die with memory loss and confusion as the most common symptoms. AD is terminal with no cure. Over the years, research has made strides in understanding the disease. While for now there is no cure, there is a promising treatment available.

a man who may struggle with Alzheimer's Disease

Aduhelm is the pharmaceutical name for aducanumab and is the first treatment for AD. It works by removing amyloid beta. Aduhelm helps by slowing the cognitive deterioration of those in the early stages of the disease. A treatment to slow the decline is not enough. Nearly 6 million people Americans are living with the disease. Scientists around the world work to find innovative ways to not only treat the symptoms but suspend and stop them from spreading, and growing.

In the past, Alzheimer's disease could only be diagnosed with certainty after death. After the death of an Alzheimer’s patient, the brain of the deceased would be analyzed and studied under a microscope to look for the typical plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s Diesesaw. Doctors and specialists like neurologists can now more definitely diagnose Alzheimer’s while someone is still alive. Biomarkers, like certain types of PET scans or measuring amyloid and tau proteins in plasma and cerebral spinal fluid, can find plaques and tangles in the brain.

a neuron which is related to Alzheimer's Disease

Although the cause of the disease is not yet known, recent studies point to two viruses playing a role in triggering the onset of Alzheimer's. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Tufts University have shared some groundbreaking data. They have found that the chicken pox and shingles vaccine also known scientifically as the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) may play a role in reactivating the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1). “We have been working off a lot of established evidence that HSV has been linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in patients,” said David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts’ School of Engineering. The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, explains the herpes virus, which sits dormant in the brain’s neurons, will cause an accumulation of tau and amyloid beta proteins when reawakened. Tau and amyloid beta proteins are found in abundance in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

a disease, it could relate to Alzheimer's Disease

The findings suggest a link and pathway to Alzheimer's disease caused by chicken pox or shingles. This infection will create inflammatory reactions that "awaken" the Herpes that has been lying dormant in the brain. According to Dana Cairns, a research associate in the Biomedical Engineering department, “While we demonstrated a link between VZV and HSV-1 activation, it’s possible that other inflammatory events in the brain could also awaken HSV-1 and lead to Alzheimer’s disease.”

The HSV-1, in most instances, lies dormant in the nerve cells. When the virus is reactivated, it can cause nerve and skin inflammation, which can lead to painful open sores and blisters. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that one in two Americans are carriers and will have minimal to no symptoms before the virus goes dormant.

Additionally, the chicken pox/shingles virus, VZV, is also common in the population with approximately 95% having been exposed and infected before the age of 20. The majority of those statistics resulted in the form of a chicken pox vaccine and can find its way to the nerve cells much like the HSV-1 virus. In adulthood, VZV can come back in the form of shingles. Shingles cause painful blisters on the skin and can last up to several months. One in three people will likely develop a case of shingles.

Due to the commonality of the viruses, VZV and HSV-1, and mass infection in the population, it could account for the number of Alzheimer's diagnoses rising rapidly. It is estimated that by the year 2060, there will be 14 million people battling Alzheimer’s Disease. Alone these viruses are not all that threatening, but the inflammation of the VZV (shingles) can cause neuroinflammation and reactivate the HSV-1 in the brain, and stimulates the tau and amyloid beta proteins associated the Alzheimer’s Disease. “Our results suggest one pathway to Alzheimer’s disease, caused by a VZV infection which creates inflammatory triggers that awaken HSV in the brain,” said Dana Cairns, GBS12, a research associate in the Tufts Department of Biomedical Engineering

The link between HSV-1 and Alzheimer’s disease only occurs when HSV-1 has been reactivated to cause sores, blisters, and other painful inflammatory conditions. The results from Tufts University and the University of Oxford offer prosing new findings in the journey to understand Alzheimer’s. Where there is understanding, there can be strides toward prevention and maybe even a cure. Understanding the connections that inflammation and prevalent viruses can have on the brain is key to continuing to have new discoveries. Because of the findings of the links between herpes and chicken pox/shingles to Alzheimer’s, the chickenpox/shingles vaccine can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. If the vaccine keeps the shingles from reactivation the herpes vaccine, it could stop inflammation and neuronal damage. While The true cause has yet to be discovered. Science progresses to find connections and help with the treatment.

people talking at a round table about Alzheimer's Disease

Until the day there is a cure, the professional experts at Blakey Hally are here to assist with the care of loved ones with AD. The Cottage at Blakey Hall helps families cope with the challenges that come with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The Cottage is a safe and secure environment with gated access and a secure outside experience. If you find yourself in the position needing assistance within a safe and secure setting with amenities such as daily activities and a sensory room that create comfort, then reach out to schedule a tour of our memory care unit, The Cottage.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page