Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia. It affects a person's thinking, memory, and behavior and gets worse as time goes on.
It's the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the most common type of dementia.
Alzheimer's accounts for about 60% to 80% of all dementia cases.
Most people who have Alzheimer's are over 65, but it's not a normal part of aging.
There are two distinct types of Alzheimer's disease: early-onset and late-onset.
There are three basic stages of late-onset Alzheimer's. But, the disease doesn't always progress in a predictable way. Each person may experience different symptoms.
A person in the early stages of Alzheimer's can mostly still function on their own.
During early-stage Alzheimer's, they may:
The middle stage of Alzheimer's can last for years.
The symptoms become more noticeable and include:
In the final stage of Alzheimer's, most people need round-the-clock care.
Experts believe that a build-up of proteins around the brain causes Alzheimer's. These proteins form plaques around brain cells.
This process begins many years before symptoms appear.
It's unclear why some people get Alzheimer's and some don't. It may be a mix of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
Doctors don't understand everything about what causes Alzheimer's.
But there are some risk factors that make it more likely you'll get it, such as:
The best way to lower your risk of Alzheimer's is to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.
Is losing your keys a sign of Alzheimer's disease? What about wandering through the grocery store and forgetting what you need?
Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between normal forgetfulness and a sign of something more serious.
Here are some signs of early-stage Alzheimer's:
Diagnosing Alzheimer's is a challenge. Sometimes various dementia symptoms overlap.
When someone has symptoms of more than one kind of brain disease, doctors call it “mixed dementia."
To diagnose Alzheimer's, doctors may ask family members to weigh in on changes to a loved one's behavior.
Doctors will take a complete medical history that may include:
Right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer's. But doctors can treat symptoms and sometimes slow the progression of the disease.
Talking with your doctor is the first step in learning if medicine is the right treatment for you. While it may be effective, no drug at this time can reverse the damage that has already occurred.
Types of medication that a doctor may prescribe for someone living with Alzheimer's include:
People with Alzheimer's have symptoms that can include anxiety and restlessness.
They may not be able to communicate well. It's up to caregivers to learn their physical and emotional needs.
Techniques that may help are to:
There's no cure for Alzheimer's. Usually, people live about 4 to 8 years after diagnosis. But there are many factors, and sometimes people with Alzheimer's can live as long as 20 years.
The hope for a cure lies in Alzheimer's disease research.
Researchers are studying how various drugs may get to the root cause of Alzheimer's, not just slow the progress of the disease. Some drugs used to treat other diseases and conditions, like cancer and high blood pressure, show promise in fighting Alzheimer's.
Current research also suggests that your lifestyle plays a part in whether or not you'll get Alzheimer's. Exercise and a heart-healthy diet may delay or help prevent the onset of the disease.