Identifying Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a slowly progressive disease of the brain that is characterized by memory impairment and disturbances in reasoning, planning, language and perception. Scientists believe it is caused by an increase in the production or accumulation of a specific protein (beta-amyloid protein) in the brain which leads to nerve cell death.

Who develops Alzheimer's Disease?
The main risk factor is increased age. The likelihood of contracting Alzheimer's increases substantially over the age of 70. Nearly 50% of people over the age of 85 are afflicted with the disease. There may be some other contributing factors including genetic predisposition, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's?
The Alzheimer's Association has developed the following list of warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. Individuals who exhibit several of these symptoms should see a physician for a complete evaluation.

  1. Memory loss
  2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  3. Problems with language
  4. Disorientation to time and place
  5. Poor or decreased judgment
  6. Problems with abstract thinking
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Changes in mood or behavior
  9. Changes in personality
  10. Loss of initiative

What are the stages of Alzheimer's?
The onset of the disease is usually gradual and it is slowly progressive. Problems with short-term memory are common in the early stages. Mild personality changes such as less spontaneity, apathy, and a tendency to withdraw from social interactions may occur early in the illness. As the disease progresses, problems with abstract thinking and other intellectual functions develop. Further disturbances in behavior and appearance may be seen at this point such as agitation, irritability, quarrelsomeness, and a diminishing ability to dress appropriately. In the latter stages of the disease, affected individuals become confused and disoriented, unable to engage in conversation, erratic in mood, uncooperative, and lose bladder and bowel control.

Are there other forms of dementia besides Alzheimer's?
Yes. There are many conditions that can cause dementia including strokes, blood clots, brain tumors, depression, traumatic head injuries and infectious diseases of the brain. Some of these types of dementia may have similar symptoms to Alzheimer's disease.

What treatments are available for Alzheimer's?
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, however treatments are available to alleviate many of the symptoms that cause suffering. There are two classes of drugs approved by the FDA for treating Alzheimer's. Neither class of drugs has been proven to slow the rate of progression of the disease but clinical trials suggest these medications are superior to placebos (sugar pills) in relieving some symptoms. Non-medication based treatments include providing opportunities for patients to interact socially and engaging in activities such as walking, singing and dancing.

For more information, please visit the Alzheimer's Association website.

Information on identifying Alzheimer's disease