Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes brain cells to die and the brain to shrink (atrophy). Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, defined as a progressive decline in cognitive, behavioral, and social skills that impair a person’s ability to function independently.
Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5.8 million people in the United States aged 65 and up. Eighty percent of those are 75 or older. Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to affect 60% to 70% of the approximately 50 million people worldwide who have dementia.
The disease’s early symptoms include forgetting recent events or conversations. A person with Alzheimer’s will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to perform daily tasks as the disease progresses.
Medications may improve or slow the progression of symptoms temporarily. These treatments can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s disease maintain function and independence for a short period. Various programs and services are available to help people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or treatment that alters the disease process in the brain. Complications from severe loss of brain function, such as dehydration, malnutrition, or infection, result in death in the advanced stages of the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by memory loss. Early warning signs include trouble recalling recent events or conversations. Memory impairments worsen as the disease progresses, and other symptoms emerge.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may initially be aware of difficulties remembering things and organizing thoughts. A family member or friend is more likely to notice when symptoms worsen.
Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes cause increasing difficulty with:
Everyone has occasional memory lapses, but Alzheimer’s disease memory loss persists and worsens, impairing the ability to function at work or home.
Alzheimer’s patients may:
Repeat statements and questions several times.
Forget about conversations, appointments, and events; you will not remember them later.
Misplace possessions regularly, frequently putting them in illogical locations
Get lost in familiar surroundings.
You will eventually forget the names of family members and commonplace objects.
Have difficulty identifying objects, expressing thoughts, or participating in conversations?
Reasoning and thinking
Alzheimer’s disease impairs concentration and thinking, particularly regarding abstract concepts like numbers.
Multitasking is complicated, and managing finances, balancing checkbooks, and paying bills on time may be complicated. A person with Alzheimer’s may eventually be unable to recognize and deal with numbers.
Making decisions and judgments
Alzheimer’s disease impairs one’s ability to make sound decisions and judgments in everyday situations. For example, a person may make poor or unusual choices in social interactions or dress inappropriately for the weather. Responding effectively to everyday problems, such as food burning on the stove or unexpected driving situations, may be more difficult.
Planning and carrying out routine tasks
Activities that used to be routine, such as planning and cooking a meal or playing a favorite game, become difficult as the disease progresses. People with advanced Alzheimer’s disease frequently forget basic tasks like dressing and bathing.
Personality and behavioral changes
Alzheimer’s disease causes brain changes that can affect moods and behaviors. The following are examples of potential issues:
Swings in mood
Untrustworthiness in others
Irritation and aggression
Sleeping patterns have shifted.
Absence of inhibitions
Delusions, such as believing that something was stolen
Many essential skills are retained for extended periods, even as symptoms worsen. Reading or listening to books, telling stories and reminiscing, singing, music, dancing, drawing, or doing crafts are all examples of preserved skills.
These abilities may be preserved for a more extended period because they are controlled by brain parts that are affected later in the disease’s progression.
When should you see a doctor?
Various conditions, including treatable conditions, can cause memory loss or other dementia symptoms. If you are concerned about your memory or other cognitive abilities, consult your doctor for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.
If you are concerned about the thinking skills of a family member or friend, discuss your concerns with them and inquire about going to a doctor’s appointment together.