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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia - the loss of intellectual and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. In Alzheimer's disease, healthy brain tissue degenerates, causing a steady decline in memory and mental abilities.

Alzheimer's disease is not a part of normal aging, but the risk of the disorder increases with age. About 5 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have Alzheimer's disease, while nearly half the people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer's.

Although there's no cure, treatments may improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer's disease. Those with Alzheimer's - as well as those who care for them - need support and affection from friends and family to cope.

Alzheimer's disease may start with slight memory loss and confusion, but it eventually leads to irreversible mental impairment that destroys a person's ability to remember, reason, learn and imagine.

Memory loss
Everyone has occasional lapses in memory. It's normal to forget where you put your car keys or to blank on the names of people whom you rarely see. But the memory problems associated with Alzheimer's disease persist and worsen. People with Alzheimer's may:

§  Repeat things

§  Often forget conversations or appointments

§  Routinely misplace things, often putting them in illogical locations

§  Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects

Problems with abstract thinking
People with Alzheimer's may initially have trouble balancing their checkbook, a problem that progresses to trouble recognizing and dealing with numbers.

Difficulty finding the right word
It may be a challenge for those with Alzheimer's to find the right words to express thoughts or even follow conversations. Eventually, reading and writing also are affected.

People with Alzheimer's disease often lose their sense of time and dates, and may find themselves lost in familiar surroundings.

Loss of judgment
Solving everyday problems, such as knowing what to do if food on the stove is burning, becomes increasingly difficult, eventually impossible. Alzheimer's is characterized by greater difficulty in doing things that require planning, decision making and judgment.

Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Once-routine tasks that require sequential steps, such as cooking, become a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer's may forget how to do even the most basic things.

Personality changes
People with Alzheimer's may exhibit:

§  Mood swings

§  Distrust in others

§  Increased stubbornness

§  Social withdrawal

§  Depression

§  Anxiety

§  Aggressiveness  

No one factor appears to cause Alzheimer's disease. Instead, scientists believe that it may take a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors to trigger the onset of symptoms. While the causes of Alzheimer's are poorly understood, its effect on brain tissue is clear. Alzheimer's disease damages and kills brain cells.

Two types of brain cell (neuron) damage are common in people who have Alzheimer's:

§  Plaques. Clumps of a normally harmless protein called beta-amyloid may interfere with communication between brain cells. Although the ultimate cause of neuron death in Alzheimer's isn't known, mounting evidence suggests that the abnormal processing of beta-amyloid protein may be the culprit.

§  Tangles. The internal support structure for brain cells depends on the normal functioning of a protein called tau. In people with Alzheimer's, threads of tau protein undergo alterations that cause them to become twisted. Many researchers believe this may seriously damage neurons, causing them to die.


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