Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. These symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for brain disorders that result in the loss of intellectual and social skills. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Unfortunately, there is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease however treatments, such as medications and management strategies, may temporarily improve the symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease damages and kills brain cells that are responsible for specific functions such as thinking, learning and remembering. Compared with a healthy brain, a brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease has many fewer cells and many fewer connections among surviving cells.
Although the ultimate cause of brain cell death in Alzheimer’s is not known, there are two types of abnormalities found in the brain of those with the disease that are strongly implicated in damaging and killing brain cells:
While a specific cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, there are factors that can increase your risk of developing the disease. These include:
Regardless of age, everyone experiences occasional episodes of forgetfulness. But sometimes, when your memory loss occurs more and more frequently, this could mean a more serious condition. If you find yourself struggling to find the right word, having difficulty with tasks that once came easily and feeling like your memory problems are affecting your daily life, then you may be experiencing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, so it is important to be aware of the symptoms and what you can do to address the disease. In 2006, there were 26.6 million people with Alzheimer’s disease worldwide. By 2050, this is estimated to quadruple, by which time 1 in 85 people worldwide will be living with the disease.
As there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, this section includes in-depth information on diagnosing Alzheimer’s and treating its symptoms. Being a progressive condition, there is also information to guide you on what to expect at different stages of the disease, as well as tips for coping with daily routines and challenges.
For the family and friends of those suffering with the disease, there is a detailed explanation of the causes and risk factors associated with the disease
There is no one test that confirms you have Alzheimer’s disease. As memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be caused by many different factors, your doctor will run various tests to help clarify the diagnosis and make a judgment about whether Alzheimer’s is the most likely cause of your symptoms.
Doctors can almost always determine whether you have dementia, including whether your dementia is due to Alzheimer’s disease.
These are some of the tests conducted to diagnose Alzheimer’s and rule out other conditions:
If your symptoms have been diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease, this can mean an enormous adjustment for both you and your loved ones. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments available for the symptoms. It may also help to understand more about the progressive nature of the disease by learning about the 7 stages of Alzheimer’s.
This seven-stage framework below gives a general outline of how abilities change during the course of the disease. It is based on a system developed by Barry Reisberg, M.D., Clinical Director of the New York University School of Medicine's Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, doctors can offer a range of treatments to help you reduce or delay the symptoms.
Modifying the environment at home: Getting rid of unnecessary furniture and clutter can reduce confusion, and make it easier for someone with Alzheimer’s to function. Consider installing handrails through the house for extra support, as well as reducing the number of mirrors to avoid confusion.
Adjusting a caregiver’s responses: Despite best intentions, sometimes a caregiver’s response to a behaviour can actually make the behaviour worse. It's best to avoid correcting and quizzing a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Reassuring the person and validating his or her concerns can defuse most situations.
Simplify tasks: Break tasks into easier steps and focus on completing them successfully. Creating structure and routine throughout the day can also help reduce confusion in people with Alzheimer’s.
Currently, there’s no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But you may be able to lower your risk of developing the disease by keeping physically and mentally active and making lifestyle changes such as those below: