What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. Estimates cary, but experts suggest that more than 5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s.

Additionally, Alzheimer’s disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but recent estimates indicate that the disorder may rank third as a cause of death for older people. 

Alzheimer’s is also the most common cause of dementia among older adults.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning– such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning– and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interfered with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living. 

The causes of dementia can vary depending on the types of brain changes that may be taking place. Other types of dementia include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, and vascular dementia.  

Signs and Symptoms

Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with memory problems have a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) In MCI, people have more memory problems than normal for their age, but their symptoms do not interfere with their everyday lives. Movement difficulties and problems with the sense of smell has also been linked to MCI. Older people with MCI are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s, but not all of them do. Some may even go back to normal cognition.

The first symptom of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person. For many, decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision or spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

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