What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
The most common cause of
dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is a progressive and irreversible brain
disorder. The actual cause of AD is unknown. AD slowly damages a person’s
memory, judgment, reasoning skills, personality, autonomy, and bodily
The disease specifically
affects several components of the brain. These include:
- a gradual loss of brain cells (neurons)
- damage to neurons so they no longer function properly
- the loss of neural connections (synapses) where messages are passed from neuron to neuron
Forgetfulness: A Normal Part of Aging?
It’s normal to sometimes
forget things. As we age, it often takes longer to remember words or names, or
where we left our glasses. These forgetful moments don’t necessarily indicate
dementia. In fact, scientists have found that healthy older adults perform just
as well as their young counterparts on complex and learning tests if given
extra time to complete.
There’s a difference,
however, between occasional forgetfulness and behavior that may be cause for
concern. Not recognizing a familiar face, trouble performing common tasks
(like using the telephone or driving home), or being unable to recall recent
information are red flags that need to be checked by a doctor.
Who Gets AD?
Also known as late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, AD
is primarily a disease of older adults. The first
noticeable symptoms can occur as early as age 60.AD sometimes can
affect people as young as 30. This type of AD is called early-onset AD. It’s rare and
affects less than one out of every 1,000 people with AD. When AD runs in
families, it’s called familial
Alzheimer’s disease (FAD).
The underlying causes
and specific risk factors for AD remain unclear. Yet experts believe AD is
likely due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Lifestyle
choices such as diet, exercise, and staying mentally active are also
About 5.2 million
Americans have AD, according to the Alzheimer’s Association of America. That number will only climb as the elderly
According to the same
source, AD is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the
fifth leading in Americans age 65 and older.
What’s Being Done?
Scientists are working
to better understand AD. The goal is to create more effective
early diagnostic tools, improve treatments, and perhaps even discover a
Currently there are
numerous resources and services for people who suffer with AD and their
loved ones and caregivers. Some current treatment options even may
slow the progression of AD, but their effectiveness varies and diminishes over