Alzheimer's disease is a condition that destroys brain cells. People with this disease slowly lose the ability to learn, function, and remember.
It is the most common cause of
. Dementia is a loss in mental abilities that is great enough to interfere with daily life.
Areas of the Brain Affected by Alzheimer's Disease
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
The cause of Alzheimer's is not yet known. Two factors that may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease are: Plaques—Abnormal deposits of a substance called beta amyloid in different areas of the brainNeurofibrillary tangles—Twisted fibers (called tau fibers) within the nerve cells
People who are over 65 years of age have an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Other factors that may increase your chance of Alzheimer's disease include: Previous serious, traumatic brain injuryLower educational achievementObesity in middle-ageDown's syndromeDown's syndrome in a first-degree relativeWomen under age 35 who give birth to a child with Down's syndromeSmokingFamily history of Alzheimer's diseasePresence of a certain type of protein (APOE-e4)DepressionElevated levels of homocysteineHeart disease
Researchers are studying the following to see if they are related to Alzheimer's disease: Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency in childhoodExcess metal in the blood, especially zinc, copper, aluminum, and ironCertain viral infectionsDiabetesHigh cholesterol
The disease begins as mild memory lapses. It will continue toward a profound loss of memory and function. Alzheimer's disease is divided into three stages: Early—Loss of memory, reasoning, understanding, or learning, but does not interfere with independenceIntermediate—Increased mental loss, personality changes, and increased dependence on others for basic needsSevere—Loss of personality and bodily functions with total dependence on others for care
Increasing trouble remembering things, such as:
How to get to familiar locationsWhat the names of family and friends areWhere common objects are usually keptHow to do simple mathHow to do usual tasks, such as cooking, dressing, and bathingHaving difficulty concentrating on tasksHaving difficulty completing sentences due to lost or forgotten words—may progress to complete inability to speakForgetting the date, time of day, or seasonGetting lost in familiar surroundingsHaving mood swingsBeing withdrawn, losing interest in usual activitiesHaving personality changesWalking in a slow, shuffling wayHaving poor coordinationLosing purposeful movement
There are no tests to confirm Alzheimer's. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Neurological, psychological, and mental status exams may be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with: Blood tests Urine testsLumbar puncture
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with: CT scanMRI scanPositron emission tomography (PET) scan
Your brain's electrical activity may be measured. This can be done with electroencephalogram (EEG).
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. There are no certain ways to slow its progression. Medication is available to treat some of the symptoms. The goal is to find a medication that can manage the symptoms or slow the condition's course.
Medications that have been approved to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include:
Cholinesterase inhibitors—Recommended for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease
N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist—For moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's disease
Managing the disease includes: Creating an environment in which you can receive the care you needKeeping your quality of life as high as possibleKeeping yourself safeHelping yourself learn to deal with the frustration of your uncontrollable behaviorProviding a calm, quiet, predictable environmentProviding appropriate eyewear and hearing aids, and easy-to-read clocks and calendarsPlaying quiet musicDoing light, appropriate exercise to reduce agitation and relieve depressionEncouraging family and close friends to visit frequently
Psychiatric symptoms may occur with Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat: DepressionAnxietyConfusion, paranoia, and hallucinations
Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease is difficult and exhausting. The primary caregiver needs emotional support, rest, and regular breaks. The
is an excellent resource for families and caregivers
There are no guidelines for preventing Alzheimer's disease because the exact cause is unknown. However, the following factors may help you reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease:
that includes fish.
Drink alcohol, but in moderation. This means no more than two drinks per day for a man, and one drink per day for a woman.Exercise regularly
Engage in mentally stimulating activities.
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Last reviewed August 2014 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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