What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. Dementia is a wide range of symptoms linked to physical and functional changes in the brain. Dementia usually affects memory, thinking abilities, and behavior. These mental changes make it hard for a person who has dementia to care for him- or herself. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but many other things can also cause dementia.
How common is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is common in people older than 65 years of age. People who are younger than 65 years of age can also have Alzheimer’s disease. This is called early onset Alzheimer’s. Early onset Alzheimer’s is not very common
“Progressive” means that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease usually start slowly and are mild, then get worse over time. The process of symptoms getting worse over time is called “cognitive decline.”
In the late stages of the disease, a person who has Alzheimer’s is no longer able to communicate and depends entirely on other people for care.
It’s different for each person.
Most people live 4 to 8 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Some live with the disease for up to 20 years.
Warning signs and symptoms
- Memory loss that affects daily life.
- Changes in the ability to follow a plan or solve a problem.
- Changes in the ability to complete familiar tasks
- Becoming confused about time or place
- Problems with vision or understanding visual information
- Problems with words
- Misplacing things
- Poor judgment
- Changes in mood and personality
Causes & Risk Factors
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. It appears that Alzheimer’s disease develops when clumps of abnormal proteins grow in the brain. This growth likely begins with a series of many small changes in the brain that start long before any symptoms are noticeable. Over time, these changes add up. Eventually, brain cells become damaged and die.
Age: The older you are, the greater your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Genetics and family history: You are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.
Down syndrome: People who have Down syndrome have a much higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease than the general population.
Environmental/lifestyle factors: Environment and Lifestyle habits also affect your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Head trauma, cardiovascular or heart problems, diabetes, and obesity appear to increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease also appears to be more common in women than in men. Nearly two-thirds of people who have Alzheimer’s disease are women.
Diagnosis & Tests
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease may take some time. There is no test that can tell your doctor whether you have Alzheimer’s disease. So, to make sure your doctor has plenty of information to help determine the cause of your symptoms.
Based on this information, your doctor can almost always tell whether you have dementia. Your doctor can tell whether Alzheimer’s disease is the cause of your dementia about 90% of the time.
Alzheimer’s disease can only be diagnosed with 100% accuracy after death, when the brain is examined under a microscope. The brain of a person who had Alzheimer’s disease will show very distinct changes that only happen when Alzheimer’s is the cause of dementia.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Treatment focuses as:
- Slowing the progression of symptoms such as memory loss.
- Addressing behavior changes such as depression and aggression.
- Helping to relieve other symptoms, such as sleep problems.
Complications of Alzheimer’s disease usually are a result of the changes that take place in the brain as the disease progresses. These changes can cause additional health problems, including:
Pneumonia or other infections
Malnutrition or dehydration