Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain. It is a form of dementia, slowly destroying memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. In most people with Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms first appear after age 60. While Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia among older people, it is not a normal part of aging. There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, but some drug and non-drug medications can prevent some cognitive and behavioral symptoms from getting worse for a limited time.
Good planning and far-sighted medical and social management can be most helpful in easing the burdens and anxiety this disease causes patients and their caregivers. Key among these considerations is involving the patient in health care directives and decisions as long as he or she has the capacity to do so.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s is a slow disease that starts with mild memory problems and ends with severe brain damage. The time from diagnosis to death varies — as little as three or four years if the person is older than 80 when diagnosed to as long as 10 or more years if the person is younger.
The Alzheimer's Association has developed a checklist
of 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease to help determine if memory loss is a serious health concern. Symptoms include:
Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Problems with language
Disorientation to time and place
Poor or decreased judgment
Problems with abstract thinking
Changes in mood or behavior
Changes in personality
Loss of initiative Diagnosis
Many conditions, including some that are treatable or reversible (such as depression, adverse drug reactions, metabolic changes and nutritional deficiencies) can cause mental degradation or dementia. For this reason, early and thorough evaluation of the patient is important to rule out other conditions that have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
An early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease also helps patients and their families plan for the future. It gives them time to discuss care options while the patient can still take part in making decisions. Even though no drug can slow the onset or the progression of Alzheimer's disease, early diagnosis offers the best chance to treat the symptoms of the disease.
A firm diagnosis of Alzheimer's involves a comprehensive evaluation requiring several tests and examinations, including a review of medical history, mental status tests, a physical exam and diagnostic tests, a neurological exam and brain imaging using an MRI
, CT scan
or PET scan
. Reduce Your Risk
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are no treatments, drugs or pills that can prevent Alzheimer's disease, but people can take some steps that may reduce their risk. These include:
Lowering cholesterol and homocysteine levels
Lowering high blood pressure levels
Engaging in activities that stimulate the mind
A healthy diet is important. Although no special diets or nutritional supplements have been found to prevent or reverse Alzheimer's disease, a balanced diet helps maintain overall good health.
If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, request an appointment with a Sentara neurologist
. More Information
National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Association National Institutes of Health – Senior Health National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke