What is Alzheimer disease?
Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia Dementia Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, and learn. Most dementia begins little by little and starts after age 65. It’s normal for the brain to change with age, but... read more that usually affects people older than 65. Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, understand language, and learn.
Brain problems get worse over time. People with Alzheimer disease eventually need help from other people to do daily activities.
Everyone’s brain changes with age, but Alzheimer disease destroys brain tissue and creates many abnormal brain cells
Alzheimer disease is more likely in people older than 65, women, and those with a family member who had it
At first, recent events may be forgotten, and slowly, over time, memory gets worse
Most people live for about 7 years after getting Alzheimer disease
Doctors think genes play a role in Alzheimer disease, but don’t know for sure what causes it
Doctors suspect Alzheimer disease based on the symptoms, an exam, and other tests
Medicines can help people live safely and comfortably for as long as possible
What causes Alzheimer disease?
Alzheimer disease seems to be caused by abnormal substances that build up in the brain. These substances interfere with brain cells and eventually kill them. The more brain cells die, the worse the brain works. Doctors aren't sure what causes the abnormal substances to build up. The problem does seem to run in families.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer disease?
Alzheimer disease causes many of the same symptoms as other types of dementia. However, people with Alzheimer disease may have an especially hard time remembering recent events.
Alzheimer disease causes problems with:
These problems make it hard to do normal daily tasks, such as shopping, making meals, and managing money. People also may have trouble behaving appropriately.
Early symptoms of Alzheimer disease:
Forgetting things that just happened
Feeling depressed, afraid, anxious, or having few emotions
Having trouble making decisions
Having trouble finding the right word to say
Getting confused by things seen and heard
Finding it hard to drive a car
Trouble falling or staying asleep
Later symptoms of Alzheimer disease:
Trouble remembering past events
Not recognizing familiar people and things
Getting irritated easily to the point where the person may lash out and hit others
Not knowing the time or place
Needing help to do daily activities, such as eating, getting dressed, and bathing
Unable to hold urine
Eventually, people with Alzheimer disease lose almost all brain function. They can't get out of bed or even move. Eventually, they can't even swallow food that's placed in their mouth.
How can doctors tell if someone has Alzheimer disease?
Doctors suspect Alzheimer disease based on:
Doctors may do other tests, such as blood and imaging tests to look inside the brain. The imaging tests could be computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests help the doctor see if there are any other treatable conditions like delirium Delirium Delirium is a sudden, fluctuating, and usually reversible disturbance of mental function. It is characterized by an inability to pay attention, disorientation, an inability to think clearly... read more . Doctors may also do a spinal tap to get a sample of spinal fluid to look for the abnormal substance associated with Alzheimer disease.
How do doctors treat Alzheimer disease?
Give medicines to help with memory
Make sure the person is safe and has the support needed to do daily activities
People with Alzheimer disease do best in a cheerful, calm environment. Having caregivers follow regular routines for eating, sleeping, and activities can help.
Care for caregivers
Caring for people with any type of dementia, including Alzheimer disease, is stressful and demanding. Caregivers may become depressed and exhausted, often not taking care of their own mental and physical health. It's important for caregivers to:
Learn how to meet the needs of people with dementia and what to expect from them
Seek help when needed, such as from day-care programs, visits by home nurses, housekeeping help, live-in assistance, counseling, and support groups
Take time to care for themselves, including spending regular time with friends and on hobbies and activities
How can I prevent Alzheimer disease?
Doctors think these things may help prevent Alzheimer disease:
Keeping cholesterol at a normal level by eating a low-fat diet and taking needed medicine
Keeping blood pressure at a normal level
Keeping mentally active with activities like doing crossword puzzles, reading the newspaper, and learning new skills
Drinking fewer than 3 alcoholic drinks a day—but once Alzheimer disease is diagnosed, it’s best not to drink alcohol at all because it can make symptoms worse