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The most common form of dementing illness, Alzheimers disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain, causing impaired memory, thinking and behavior. The person with Alzheimers may experience confusion, personality and behavior changes, impaired judgment, and difficulty finding words, finishing thoughts or following directions. It eventually leaves its victims incapable of caring for themselves.

What happens to the brain in Alzheimers Disease?

With Alzheimers, nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls memory, thinking, are damaged, interrupting the passage of messages between cells. The cells develop distinctive changes that are called neuritic plaques (clusters of degenerating nerve cell ends) and neurofibrillary tangles (masses of twisted filaments which accumulate in previously health nerve cells). The cortex (thinking center) of the brain atrophies (shrinks). The spaces in the center of the brain become enlarged, also reducing surface area in the brain.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimers Disease?

Alzheimers Disease is a dementing illness that leads to loss of intellectual capacity. Symptoms usually occur in older adults (although people in their 40s and 5Os may also be affected) and include loss of language skills such as trouble finding words, problems with abstract thinking, poor or decreased judgment, disorientation in place and time, changes in mood or behavior and changes in personality. The overall result is a noticeable decline in personal activities or work performance.

Who is affected by Alzheimers Disease?

Alzheimers Disease knows no social or economic boundaries and affects men and women almost equally. The disease strikes older persons more frequently, affecting approximately 10% of Americans over age 65 and 47% of those over age 85.

Is Alzheimers Disease hereditary?

There is a slightly increased risk that children, brothers, and sisters of patients with Alzheimers Disease will get it, but most cases are the only ones in a family. Some patients who develop the disease in middle age (called early onset) have a "familial" type more than one case in the family. It is important to note that Alzheimers can only be definitively diagnosed after death through autopsy of brain tissue. Thirty percent of autopsies turn up a different diagnosis. Families are encouraged to ask for an autopsy as a contribution to learning more about the genetics of Alzheimers.

Are there treatments available for Alzheimers Disease?

Presently, there is no definite cure or treatment for Alzheimers Disease. Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous individuals who market so-called "cures." These treatments are often expensive and they do not cure Alzheimers. However, since senility is such a scary problem and because families are desperate to find help for loved ones, these bogus treatments continue to sell. Most of them have no scientific proof of effectiveness.

What is the scope of Alzheimers Disease?

Alzheimers afflicts approximately 4 million Americans and its estimated that one in three of us will face this disease in an older relative. More than 100,000 die annually, making Alzheimers Disease the fourth leading cause of death among adults. Half of all current nursing home patients are affected, making Alzheimers a costly public health and long term care problem. An estimated $80 billion is spent annually on the care of Alzheimers, including costs diagnosis, treatment, nursing home care, at-home care and lost wages. Alzheimers also affects the patients’ caregivers, who become the second victims. Persons with Alzheimers often require 24-hour care and supervision, most of which is provided in the home by family and friends. In addition to the tremendous stress of providing care, families also bear most of the financial burdens of the disease as well.

What’s Ahead? Because of the chronic nature of Alzheimers and our aging population, it is expected that an increase will be seen in the numbers of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimers. We will be attempting to provide a useful source of information for staying updated on current prevention and treatment approaches.


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The information about senior health presented here is not meant to be medical advice nor to act as a substitute for medical advice. Serious side-effects, including death, could result if one were to take any prescription medicine without the supervision of a physician.

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