is a progressive condition of the brain that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common form of dementia, a term that refers to any condition that worsens mental functioning over time. Alzheimer's disease is most common in individuals 65 years and older, but cases of early onset have been documented in individuals in their 40s and 50s.
Alzheimer's is caused by two abnormal protein structures ("plaques" which are protein deposits and "tangles" which are twisted protein fibers) found in the brain tissue along with the loss of connection between neurons (nerve cells in the brains). These abnormalities cause the brain cells to lose normal function. It is uncertain what causes these abnormalities to develop but several genes have been identified as risk factors. Environmental factors and behaviors such as alcoholism have been linked to Alzheimer's disease as well.
The first sign of Alzheimer's is an inability to remember newly learned information. As the condition progresses over time, the individual may experience worsening memory loss, changes in mood or behavior and eventually severe confusion (in terms of time, events, or places), disorientation, and unnecessary suspicions about family or others. The individual may progress to the point that he or she cannot take care of him or herself, eat or swallow, speak, or walk. A diagnosis for Alzheimer’s is not definitive but is based upon a combination of looking at someone's family history, a physical exam, and other tests. Plaques and tangles are not seen on MRI or other brain scans. Genetic testing may also be helpful in some familial cases.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, but drug treatments are available to slow the progression, manage the symptoms, and improve quality of life. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, contact your doctor to discuss the most current treatment options.