Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, irreversible disorder of the brain and the most common form of dementia. The disease affects the cognitive parts of the brain that are involved in thinking, remembering, and using language. It can severely impair a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Dementia isn’t a specific disease, but rather a general term to describe any loss or decline in brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior, and is serious enough to interfere with daily functions. There are numerous types of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s disease typically affects people when they’re age 60 or older, and your risk of developing the disease doubles every five years after the age of 65. An estimated 5.2 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, as of a 2014 report released by the Alzheimer’s Association. About 5 million of these people are over the age of 65. According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the fifth leading cause of death in people age 65 and older.
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes and Risk Factors
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the excessive shrinking of certain brain tissues, which occurs when neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and eventually die. It’s not known how this process begins, but the brains of people with Alzheimer’s contain amyloid plaques (which are abnormal protein deposits between neurons) and neurofibrillary tangles (twisted strands of a protein called tau) that likely affect neurons. Research suggests that the genes you inherit may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Other possible risk factors for Alzheimer’s include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Making healthy life choices may help prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s. These preventive measures include eating a healthy diet, drinking alcohol moderately, maintaining an active lifestyle, getting adequate sleep, keeping your mind active and engaged and forming lasting and healthy social connections.
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a checklist of common symptoms to help you recognize the difference between normal age-related memory changes and possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s always a good idea to check with a doctor if a person’s level of function seems to be changing. The Alzheimer’s Association stresses that it is critical for people diagnosed with dementia and their families to receive information, care and support as early as possible.
Early Warning Signs
- Memory loss
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- New problems with writing or speaking
- Confusion with time and place
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Problems with abstract thinking
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Withdrawing from social activities
To view the full checklist, visit http://www.alz.org/10-signs-symptoms-alzheimers-dementia.asp.
—By Caren Parnes, Contributor for The Senior’s Choice