What is Alzheimer's Disease?

It is a brain disorder that seriously impairs a person's memory and affects their ability to carry out daily activities. It is the most common form of dementia among older people. It is an uncurable brain disease that slowly gets worse over time. It is NOT a normal part of aging and is NOT something that inevitably happens in later life. It involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. Every day scientists learn more, but for now the cause of Alzheimer's disease is unknown. Alzheimer's disease is named for German doctor, Alois Alzheimer. In 1906 he noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. He found the same changes in the brain tissue that is now associated with Alzheimer's disease. There is a loss of nerve cells in areas of the brain vital to memory and other mental abilities. There are also lower level of chemicals in the brain that carry complex messages back and forth between nerve cells. Alzheimer's disease may disrupt normal thinking and memory by blocking these messages between nerve cells.

How many Americans have Alzheimer's disease? 


It is estimated that 5 million Americans suffer with Alzheimer's disease. The risk goes up with age. Approximately 1 in 10 over the age of 65 have the disease and nearly 50% of those over age 85 have the disease.


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How long can a person live with Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's is a slow disease starting with mild memory problems. The course a person takes and fast changes occur vary from one person to the next. On average, Alzheimer patients live 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, but may live an additional 20 years. Alzheimer's disease is the 4th leading cause of death after age 65, behind heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

What is dementia?

The term "dementia" describes a group of symptoms that are caused by changes in brain function. Dementia symptoms may include asking the same questions repeatedly; becoming lost in familiar places; being unable to follow directions; getting disoriented about time, people, and places; and neglecting personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition. People with dementia lose their abilities at different rates. Dementia is caused by many conditions. Some conditions that cause dementia can be reversed, and others cannot. The two most common forms of dementia in older people are Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia (sometimes called vascular dementia). These types of dementia are irreversible, which means they cannot be cured. Reversible conditions with symptoms of dementia can be caused by a high fever, dehydration, vitamin deficiency and poor nutrition, bad reactions to medicines, problems with the thyroid gland, or a minor head injury. Medical conditions like these can be serious and should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible. Sometimes older people have emotional problems that can be mistaken for dementia. Feeling sad, lonely, worried, or bored may be more common for older people facing retirement or coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend. Adapting to these changes leaves some people feeling confused or forgetful. Emotional problems can be eased by supportive friends and family, or by professional help from a doctor or counselor.

What is Multi-Infarct Dementia (MID)?

In multi-infarct dementia (MID), a series of small strokes or changes in the brain's blood supply may result in the death of brain tissue. The location in the brain where the small strokes occur determines the seriousness of the problem and the symptoms that arise. Symptoms that begin suddenly may be a sign of this kind of dementia. People with MID are likely to show signs of improvement or remain stable for long periods of time, then quickly develop new symptoms if more strokes occur. In many people with MID, high blood pressure is to blame. One of the most important reasons for controlling high blood pressure is to prevent strokes.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)? 


Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) causes problems with memory and/or thinking that are serious enough to be noticed, but not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function. Those with MCI have an increased risk of eventually developing Alzheimer's disease. However, not all people with MCI get worse and some eventually get better. The risk factors associated with MCI are the same as dementia: advancing age, family history of Alzheimer's, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and increased stress. Drugs approved to treat Alzheimer's have shown no lasting benefit in delaying or preventing the progression of MCI to dementia. Individuals diagnosed with MCI should be re-evaluated every 6 months.