What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Seven Facts You Should Know About Alzheimer's Disease

Sara Suchy Sep 27th, 2012 (updated May 6th, 2014)
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There is no known cause
There is no known cause

Alzheimer's Disease has no single known cause, but in the last 15 years scientists have learned a great deal about the factors that may play a role: Family History of Alzheimer's, specific gene mutations, individuals over the age of 65, poor general health (high blood pressure and cholesterol).

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How Alzheimer's affects the brain
How Alzheimer's affects the brain

Scientists believe that whatever triggers Alzheimer's begins to damage the brain years before any symptoms present.  When symptoms emerge, nerve cells that process, store and retrieve information have already begun to degenerate and die. Specifically, Amyloid plaques, clumps of protein fragments, accumulate outside the brain's nerve cells hindering the brain's function.

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Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease
Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease

Because there is no single test for Alzheimer's disease, diagnoses usually involve a thorough medical history and physical exam as well as tests to asses memory and the overall function of the mind and nervous system. A skilled physician will be able to diagnose with up to 90 percent accuracy and most diagnostic uncertainty arises from occasional difficulty distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from related disorders or other types of dementia.

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Treating Alzheimer's Disease
Treating Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily delay the decline in memory for some patients, but there is no drug approved that is known to stop the underlying degeneration of brain cells.  As such, there is no outright cure for Alzheimer's.  However, there are some drugs approved to treat other illnesses that may alleviate the emotional and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's.

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Impact on caregivers
Impact on caregivers

Alzheimer's has a major impact on those who help care for an affected patient.  More than 70 percent of people with Alzheimer's live at home where the primary caregivers are family and friends.  As the disease progresses, the patient will require more attention, and the physical, emotional and financial stress on the caregiver will grow. 

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Impact on society
Impact on society

Alzheimer's disease takes an enormous toll on society.  the Alzheimer's Association estimates that in 2010 14.9 million family and friends provided 17 billion hours of care to those with Alzheimer's and other dementias totalling $202.6 billion of unpaid care provided.  Furthermore, more than 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of care giving as high or very high; one-third report symptoms of depression.

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There is hope
There is hope

Many scientists and advocates are hard at work studying Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Association, pharmaceutical industry, universities and our government have gained a detailed understanding of the basic disease progress at work in the Alzheimer's brain.  A strategy to delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years could halve the number of affected individuals over the next 50 years.