November 20, 2012

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month. It is a time to honor and advocate for people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their family caregivers. It is also a time to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease including symptoms of Alzheimer’s and treatment options. Read on to get informed.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes changes in memory, thinking, and behavior. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe any condition that causes problems with memory and thinking that impact a person’s ability to function. Over time, Alzheimer’s can often progress and impact all aspects of a person’s daily activities. There is currently no cure, but there are treatments that can help with symptoms. 

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Experts do not yet know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Research up to this point has indicated that Alzheimer’s may develop over time due to a number of causes. For example, many experts believe that Alzheimer’s disease may be caused by two changes in the brain – plaques and tangles. Plaques are protein clumps. Tangles are twisted fibers. Plaques and tangles form in the brain, and may block or slow communication between nerve cells.

Experts have also identified other potential causes such as age, family history, genetics, environmental issues, and lifestyle. Alzheimer’s may be related to certain conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.

Who gets Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a common, but devastating disease, affecting about 5.4 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is much more common in older adults, but it is estimated that 200,000 adults in the US have been diagnosed before age 65. 1 in 8 people age 65 have Alzheimer’s and this number grows to nearly half for people age 85 and over.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease can affect each person differently. The most common early symptom is difficulty remembering new information. This is also called short-term memory loss. As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, other symptoms can include:

■confusion about people, places, and time

■restlessness and wandering

■changes in mood and behavior

■suspicious thoughts

■difficulty understanding the spoken word (receptive aphasia)

■speech problems (expressive aphasia)

■confusion about the purpose of objects


■problems with walking, or falls

■difficulty eating and swallowing

How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?

Alzheimer’s disease is complex, and so medical professionals usually choose to approach treatment from many different angles. Current treatments aim to help people maintain mental function, manage behavioral symptoms, and slow the symptoms of the disease. There are currently four approved drugs available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, and more are under study.

It is very important that Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. If you or someone you care about has concerns about memory loss or other symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider right away. Alzheimer’s disease can only be diagnosed through a comprehensive medical evaluation.

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