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Condition

Alzheimer's Disease

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Alzheimer's Disease?

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. Alzheimer disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior.

What are the alternative names for Alzheimer's Disease?

Senile dementia - Alzheimer type (SDAT); SDAT; Dementia - Alzheimer

What are the causes for Alzheimer's Disease?

The exact cause of Alzheimer disease is not known. Research shows that certain changes in the brain lead to

You are more likely to develop Alzheimer disease if you:

  • Are older -- Developing Alzheimer disease is not a part of normal aging.
  • Have a close relative, such as a brother, sister, or parent with Alzheimer disease.
  • Have certain genes linked to Alzheimer disease.

The following may also increase the risk:

  • Being female
  • Having heart and blood vessel problems due to high cholesterol
  • History of head trauma

There are two types of Alzheimer disease:

  • Early onset Alzheimer disease -- Symptoms appear before age 60. This type is much less common than late onset. It tends to get worse quickly. Early onset disease can run in families. Several genes have been identified.
  • Late onset Alzheimer disease -- This is the most common type. It occurs in people age 60 and older. It may run in some families, but the role of genes is less clear.

What are the symptoms for Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer disease symptoms include difficulty with many areas of mental function, including:

  • Emotional behavior or personality
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Perception
  • Thinking and judgment (cognitive skills)

Alzheimer disease usually first appears as forgetfulness.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging, and the development of Alzheimer disease. People with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with daily activities. They are often aware of the forgetfulness. Not everyone with MCI develops Alzheimer disease.

Symptoms of MCI include:

  • Difficulty performing more than one task at a time
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Forgetting recent events or conversations
  • Taking longer to perform more difficult activities

Early symptoms of Alzheimer disease can include:

  • Difficulty performing tasks that take some thought, but used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing complex games (bridge), and learning new information or routines
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Language problems, such as trouble remembering the names of familiar objects
  • Losing interest in things previously enjoyed and being in a flat mood
  • Misplacing items
  • Personality changes and loss of social skills

As Alzheimer disease becomes worse, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with the ability to take care of oneself. Symptoms may include:

  • Change in sleep patterns, often waking up at night
  • Delusions, depression, and agitation
  • Difficulty doing basic tasks, such as preparing meals, choosing proper clothing, and driving
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Forgetting details about current events
  • Forgetting events in one's life history and losing self-awareness
  • Hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and violent behavior
  • Poor judgment and loss of ability to recognize danger
  • Using the wrong word, mispronouncing words, or speaking in confusing sentences
  • Withdrawing from social contact

People with severe Alzheimer disease can no longer:

  • Recognize family members
  • Perform basic activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, and bathing
  • Understand language

Other symptoms that may occur with Alzheimer disease:

  • Problems controlling bowel movements or urine
  • Swallowing problems

What are the current treatments for Alzheimer's Disease?

There is no cure for Alzheimer disease. The goals of treatment are:

  • Slow the progression of the disease (although this is difficult to do)
  • Manage symptoms, such as behavior problems, confusion, and sleep problems
  • Change the home environment to make daily activities easier
  • Support family members and other caregivers

Medicines are used to:

  • Slow the rate at which symptoms worsen, though the benefit from using these drugs may be small
  • Control problems with behavior, such as loss of judgment or confusion

Before using these medicines, ask the provider:

  • What are the side effects? Is the medicine worth the risk?
  • When is the best time, if any, to use these medicines?
  • Do medicines for other health problems need to be changed or stopped?

Someone with Alzheimer disease will need support in the home as the disease gets worse. Family members or other caregivers can help by helping the person cope with memory loss and behavior and sleep problems. It is important to make sure the home of a person who has Alzheimer disease is safe for them.

What are the support groups for Alzheimer's Disease?

Having Alzheimer disease or caring for a person with the condition may be a challenge. You can ease the stress of illness by seeking support through Alzheimer disease resources. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Alzheimer's Disease?

How quickly Alzheimer disease gets worse is different for each person. If Alzheimer disease develops quickly, it is more likely to worsen quickly.

People with Alzheimer disease often die earlier than normal, although a person may live anywhere from 3 to 20 years after diagnosis.

Families will likely need to plan for their loved one's future care.

The final phase of the disease may last from a few months to several years. During that time, the person becomes totally disabled. Death usually occurs from an infection or organ failure.

When should I contact a medical professional for Alzheimer's Disease?

Call the provider if:

  • Alzheimer disease symptoms develop or a person has a sudden change in mental status
  • The condition of a person with Alzheimer disease gets worse
  • You are unable to care for a person with Alzheimer disease at home

How do I prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

Although there is no proven way to prevent Alzheimer disease, there are some measures that may help prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer disease:

  • Stay on a low-fat diet and eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Stay mentally and socially active.
  • Wear a helmet during risky activities to prevent brain injury.

REFERENCES

Alzheimer's Association website. Press release: First practice guidelines for clinical evaluation of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias for primary and specialty care. www.alz.org/aaic/releases_2018/AAIC18-Sun-clinical-practice-guidelines.asp. Updated July 22, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2020.

Knopman DS. Cognitive impairment and dementia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 374.

Martínez G, Vernooij RW, Fuentes Padilla P, Zamora J, Bonfill Cosp X, Flicker L. 18F PET with florbetapir for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease dementia and other dementias in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;11(11):CD012216. PMID: 29164603 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29164603/.

Peterson R, Graff-Radford J. Alzheimer disease and other dementias. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 95.

Sloane PD, Kaufer DI. Alzheimer’s disease. In: Kellerman RD, Rakel DP, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2020. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier 2020:681-686.

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Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Alzheimer's Disease
  • Journal: Occupational therapy international
  • Treatment Used: Recollection-Based Occupational Therapy Program
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
In this study, researchers evaluated the outcomes of a recollection-based occupational therapy program on persons with Alzheimer's disease.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Alzheimer's Disease Sleep Disorders
  • Journal: Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD
  • Treatment Used: Bright Light Therapy
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of bright light therapy in patients with Alzheimer's disease sleep disorders.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Accumulation of Senescent Cells (SC)
  • Journal: Journal of internal medicine
  • Treatment Used: Senolytic Drugs
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This article discusses the use of senolytic drugs to decrease the accumulation of senescent cells (SC) in aging.

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
Device
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Device
  • Participants: 152
  • Start Date: September 1, 2020
Impact of Novel Rehabilitative Approaches for Dysphagia in Patients With Alzheimer's Disease
Clinical Trial
Drug
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 180
  • Start Date: September 2020
The LUCINDA Trial: LeUprolide Plus Cholinesterase Inhibition to Reduce Neurological Decline in Alzheimer's