Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder that affects the brain, impacting memory and basic thinking skills. It is the most common form of dementia and typically develops in people over the age of 65, though some in their 40s and 50s may develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a complex combination of factors related to genetics, environment and lifestyle. It’s also become clear in recent years that the damage in the brain may begin many years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur.
Some research has noted the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and other circulation problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. It also appears that lifestyle choices that are good for the whole body -- such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy weight -- may play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease in some people.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, so the symptoms start out subtly and gradually worsen over time. It may begin with trouble finding the right word, a decline in reasoning and judgment or issues with vision and spatial awareness, though these are not always related to Alzheimer’s. Over time, people gradually see their memory loss continue and confusion increase. In its end stages, the decline in brain function leads to total loss of communication, and the person is often bedridden as other parts of the body are affected by the loss of brain function.
TreatmentThough there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it can be treated. Treatment to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s usually involves a combination of medication, therapy and counseling. Support groups are also helpful for people with Alzheimer’s disease and those who care for them. The best results of treatment are usually in those in whom the disease is diagnosed early.
SOURCES: Alzheimer’s Association; U.S. National Institute on Aging