Alzheimer Disease: At a Glance
In 60 to 80% of older people with dementia, Alzheimer disease is the cause. It becomes more common with increasing age. It affects
The number of people with Alzheimer disease is expected to greatly increase as the proportion of older people increases. Only about 5 to 15% of cases run in families.
Alzheimer disease causes changes in nerve cells (neurons) in the brain:
Beta-amyloid (an abnormal, insoluble protein) accumulates because cells cannot process and remove it.
Nerve cells in the outer layer of the brain (the cortex) deteriorate and die—called cortical atrophy.
Senile or neuritic plaques are clumps of dead nerve cells around a core of beta-amyloid.
Neurofibrillary tangles are twisted strands of insoluble proteins in the nerve cell.
For a full discussion, see Alzheimer Disease.
As people age, short-term memory declines to some degree, and people learn more slowly. These normal age-related changes, unlike Alzheimer disease and other dementias, do not affect the ability to function and do daily tasks. For example,
Early symptoms may include
Forgetting recent events because forming new memories is difficult
Becoming emotionally unresponsive, depressed, or unusually fearful or anxious
Becoming less able to use good judgment and think abstractly
Using a simpler or a general word or many words rather than a specific word
Being more easily disoriented and confused—for example, getting lost on the way to the store
Before people with Alzheimer disease become too incapacitated, decisions should be made about medical care, and financial and legal arrangements should be made. These arrangements are called advance directives.
Because Alzheimer disease progresses, planning for the future is essential. Long before a person with dementia requires more support and care, family members should evaluate their options for long-term care. Some long-term care facilities, including assisted living facilities and nursing homes, specialize in caring for people with dementia.