What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurologic disorder that affects the brain. It causes dementia. Its earliest and main
symptom is steadily increasing memory loss. Problems with getting lost, language, and emotional control are
also common. These deficits may worsen over five to 20 years. Treatments can help maintain thinking, memory,
and speaking skills. No treatments can currently change or reverse the disease. But, there are many ways to help
maintain quality of life.

What Is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

As the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease has improved, researchers now recognize that it is a process
that can occur in people who initially have no symptoms. When Alzheimer’s disease causes very mild symptoms,
the process is now referred to as mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease. When the symptoms begin to interfere with daily functioning, that phase of the illness is referred to as dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a term that means the person has significant difficulty in daily life due to problems with thinking and memory. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Other types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies.

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet known. Some people may have genes that put them at higher
risk for Alzheimer’s. Genetics is the likely cause when the disease strikes people in their 40s or 50s. But most people who get Alzheimer’s dementia are 60 or older. In these people, genes may play a role, but so might other factors, such as having type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

Alzheimer’s occurs because brain cells are slowly dying. As the cells die, parts of the brain shrink and stop
working normally. The brain shows three telltale signs of the disease:

  • Amyloid plaques (clumps of material in the spaces between brain cells)
  • Tangles (buildup of protein molecules inside brain cells)
  • Loss of synapses (connections between brain cells)

What Are the Symptoms of Dementia inAlzheimer’s Disease?
The earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are often loss of recent memories and trouble learning new information. For example, a person may repeat stories in the same conversation or forget recent events. In the later stages of the illness, people with Alzheimer’s dementia forget how to perform even the simplest tasks. One of the most important aspects of Alzheimer’s dementia is that the person often is unaware of the symptoms. It is important that people suspected of having Alzheimer’s dementia see their primary care physician or a neurologist. Usually a family member initiates the appointment. A family member should always accompany the person to the visit with the doctor. Only a health care professional can diagnose the condition correctly. Then the patient and family can seek treatment and start to plan for the future.

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia
1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life, such as forgetting important dates or events
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems, such as keeping track of bills
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to a known location
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Vision difficulties, such as problems reading, judging distance, or determining color or contrast
6. New problems understanding or expressing words when speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Poor judgment, such as giving large amounts of money to strangers or not paying attention to personal grooming 9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Mood or personality changes, such as feeling confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious
Credit: Alzheimer’s Association
How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?
No simple test can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, but this is an area of rapid development. New brain scans and lab tests to aid in early diagnosis may become available soon. Currently, to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease dementia, a neurologist or doctor will conduct a complete examination
that may include:
  • Asking questions about health and medical history
  • Asking about changes in memory, behavior, or personality
  • Conducting tests of memory, problem solving, attention, and language
  • Performing tests to rule out other possible causes
  • Talking with family members or caregivers
What Are the Treatment Options?
No cure has yet been found for Alzheimer’s disease. Promising research to develop new treatments that slow or
stop the progress of the disease–and uncover a cure–is underway. Medications can help maintain thinking, memory, and speaking skills. Talk to your neurologist or doctor to find out whether any of these medications might be right for you. Medications for Alzheimer’s disease symptoms work best when they are started early.
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Reduce high cholesterol levels
  • Avoid smoking
  • Keep type 2 diabetes well managed

Physical exercise. Some studies find that exercise can benefit both the body and brain of people with Alzheimer’s
disease dementia.
Mental exercise. Some studies show that people who challenge their brains are better able to hold off symptoms
of Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Activities that may help include:


  • Social activities, such as book clubs or outings with friends or family
  • Playing cards or board games
  • Reading or doing crossword or number puzzles


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