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What is Alzheimer's Disease

    "Alzheimer's Disease ((pronounced Alz-hi-merz) is a progressive degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. It is considered to be one of the most common forms of dementia.” – Alzheimer's Association.

     

    Click Quick Facts for some statistical information.

     

    The discovery of this disease is attributed to a German physician named Alois Alzheimer, hence the name Alzheimer's Disease. In 1906, he performed an autopsy on the brain of a woman who had exhibited irrational behavior while alive. The autopsy revealed some abnormalities in the brain, specifically plaques and tangles. Visit the BrightFocus Foundation site for an illustration of a brain with Alzheimer's Disease.

     

    Brain cell.

    It was not until the 1980s that scientists pinpointed the proteins that contribute to this condition. Research is providing information as to how these plaques and tangles develop and relate to other alterations in the brain. Nerve cells, when attacked by Alzheimer's Disease, degenerate. Some nerve cells die.

     

    People suffering with Alzheimer's face each day as if it is their first on earth. Everything and everyone is unfamiliar, and a patient must constantly become reacquainted with the immediate environment. It's not just a case of forgetting how to tie one's shoes, but remembering what shoestrings are for.

     

    Alzheimer's Disease typically affects people older than 55, although cases of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease have shown up in younger people. Early-onset Alzheimer's is generally more severe and much shorter. Though not commonly presented in younger people, it can show up in adults of all ages. Its prevalence increases greatly with age. What's not known at this time is if this disease is just a "normal" progression of old age or something that can be attributed to a more specific external cause.

     


    What are the causes of Alzheimer's Disease?

     

    No one yet knows exactly what causes Alzheimer's. The disease is a type of dementia, and dementia is a condition of mental deterioration. There are many types of dementia, and not every dementia is Alzheimer's Disease. Some dementias are short-lived and reversible, or at least treatable. At this juncture, Alzheimer's Disease is not reversible, and once diagnosed it is with the person until death.

     

    There is no specific treatment for the disease, although some symptoms can be managed with medication. The causes of dementia are numerous, but if you look at causes of dementia in different age groups you

    will find that Alzheimer's accounts for up to 75% of all dementia cases in people over the age of 60. Other causes include multiple strokes or vascular dementia, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, Pick's disease, multiple sclerosis, and many others. 

     

    "The reason AD [Alzheimer's] is often 'automatically' diagnosed is because it is so prevalent. Seven out of ten times, even if just randomly guessing, you'd be right if you guessed Alzheimer's Disease. Your mom's age does not argue against a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease. As a matter of fact, the incidence, or the number of newly diagnosed cases, increases exponentially with age. An 80 year old is much more likely to develop AD than a 70 year old ." - The Mayo Clinic

     

    "More than 4 million older Americans have Alzheimer's, a disease that usually develops in those age 65 or older. This number is expected to triple in the next 20 years as more people live into their 80s and 90s."

    - The Mayo Clinic

     


    Research

    Brain scan.

     

    There is a good deal of ongoing research regarding the causes of Alzheimer's Disease. Important information from clinical studies have improved researchers' understanding of the plaques and tangles in the brains of persons suffering from the disease. This information may one day lead to the creation of treatments to slow the progression of the disease. Several non-profit and government agencies support basic research in an effort to find a cure.

     


    What are the signs of Alzheimer's Disease?

     

    Note: Only a trained medical professional can correctly diagnose Alzheimer's Disease. Do not rely on the following information alone.

     

    Memory loss.

    Forgetting bits of information is more frequent and the chances of remembering are less.

     

    Routine tasks become unfamiliar. 

    Most of our daily activities are so commonplace and habitual that we don't even think of how to go about doing them (i.e. making a cup of coffee), but the Alzheimer's patient will no longer remember how to do those basic daily activities.

     

    Disorientation 

    Getting lost on one’s own street is characteristic of Alzheimer's-associated disorientation, as is

    remembering how they arrived where they are or how to return to a starting point, including home.

     

    Poor judgment

    People suffering with Alzheimer's disassociate actions from reason. For example, they may not dress according to the weather, or they may handle money improperly, even giving it away or spending it on unneeded items. 

     

    Older woman displaying anxiety.

    Problems with abstract thinking

    An Alzheimer's sufferer may no longer recognize something as basic as numbers when attempting to do simple, lifelong tasks like adding. 

     

    Misplacing things

    Though any person may do this from time to time, the person with Alzheimer's will misplace things in unusual locations, such as putting a piece of jewelry in the freezer or an iron in the sink. 

     

    Moodiness

    The mood changes are often sudden and unexplainable. A person might go from a relaxed state to a

    highly agitated one.

     

    Personality changes

    The person you knew becomes someone totally different. An independent person becomes dependent. A confident person becomes someone who is confused and fearful.

     

    Lethargy

    This can manifest itself in apparent fatigue or disinterest in routine activities.

     

    Recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one? If so, it's time to consult a physician. The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the sooner proper treatment, care and support services can be put in place. Source

     

    Alzheimer's Home Page What is Alzheimer's Disease?  The Alzheimer's Diagnosis 
    What if you have Alzheimer's  Tips for early stage Alzheimer's   The Caregiver
    Legal considerations  Financial planning  Beware of fraudulent schemes 
    Treatments for Alzheimers  State and National resources  Personal Stories and Support Groups 
    Books on Alzheimer's Disease  Tennessee Commission on Aging Website