As many as 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease1. Younger people may get Alzheimer's disease, but it is much less common than in older adults.
What Contributes to Alzheimer's Disease?
Although scientists are learning more every day, right now, they still do not know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. The causes are believed to include a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Whether any one of these factors increase or decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s differs from person to person—even between twins1.
For most people, symptoms usually occur after age 60, but research shows that Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in the brain years and even decades before the first symptoms appear./p>
Aging is the greatest known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 651. It is important to note, however, that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
Researchers believe that genetics play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease, especially among people who develop the disease in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s (known as early onset)2.
The National Institutes of Health report, 2011–2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report: Intensifying the Research Effort, provides information about current research efforts and findings.
How Do I Know If It's Alzheimer's Disease?
Memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of cognitive loss, possibly due to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with memory problems have a condition called amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with this condition have more memory problems than normal for people their age, but their symptoms are not as severe as those seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Some, but not all, people with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the National Institute on Aging, someone with Alzheimer's disease may experience one or more of the following signs:
- getting lost
- trouble handling money and paying bills
- repeating questions
- taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- poor judgment
- losing things or misplacing them in odd places
- mood and personality changes
If someone has several or even most of the signs listed above, it does not mean that he or she has Alzheimer's disease. For a complete list of common signs, visit the National Institute on Aging.
How Do I Find Help?
Consult a healthcare provider when you have concerns about memory loss, thinking skills and behavior changes in yourself or a loved one. It is important for a doctor to determine the cause of memory loss or other symptoms. Some causes for symptoms are reversible (such as depression or drug interactions) but they can be serious and should be treated by a health-care provider as soon as possible. Early and accurate diagnosis provides opportunities for individuals and families to initiate financial planning, develop advance directives, enroll in clinical trials and anticipate care needs.
How is Alzheimer's Disease Treated?
Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, active medical management can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers. Treatment focuses on several different aspects, including helping people maintain mental function, managing behavioral symptoms, and slowing or delaying the symptoms of the disease.
For more information about treatment, visit the National Institute on Aging.
Support for Family and Friends
Currently, the vast majority of individuals living with Alzheimer's disease are cared for at home by family members.
Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease at home is a difficult task and can become overwhelming at times. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. As the disease gets worse, people living with Alzheimer's disease often need more and more care.
In addition to understanding the challenges of caring for someone living with Alzheimer's disease, it is also important to note that caregiving has positive aspects. It is usually undertaken willingly and may bring personal fulfillment to family caregivers, such as satisfaction from helping a family member or friend, development of new skills and improved family relationships. Caregiving is receiving increased attention as an important public health issue.
- Hebert LE, Scherr PA, Beckett LA, Albert MS, Pilgrim DM, Chown MJ, et al. Age-specific incidence of Alzheimer's Disease in a community population. Journal of the American Medical Association 1995;273:1354-9.
- National Institute on Aging. 2011–2012 Alzheimer’s disease progress report: intensifying the research effort. Bethesda, MD. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health; 2013. Available at http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/ 2011-2012-alzheimers-disease-progress-report.
- Alzheimer's Disease, The National Institutes of Health
- NIH Senior Health
- Alzheimer's Disease, The National Library of Medicine
- The Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
- Alzheimer's Association
- The Dana Foundation
- Guideline for Alzheimer's Disease Management, California Council of the Alzheimer's Association
- Cognitive Impairment & Alzheimer's Disease, The Council of State Governments
Additional Information on Aging and Cognitive Health
- CDC Healthy Brain Initiative
- The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health
- CDC Healthy Aging Program
- The National Institute on Aging
- NIH Senior Health
Additional Information on Services and Resources for Caregivers
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