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People with Alzheimer's disease typically show signs of memory loss, confusion, and impaired judgment. Other symptoms can include restlessness, a deterioration of language skills, and mood swings. Though Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, a person becomes more likely to develop this condition as he or she gets older. Medications exist to help treat a person's symptoms, but as of yet, there is no cure.

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer's disease -- the most common form of dementia among older people -- initially involves the parts of the brain that control a person's thought process, memory, and language.
 
Alzheimer's disease bears the name of Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental disorder. During the autopsy, he found abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles) within the brain. Today, these plaques and tangles are considered classic signs of Alzheimer's disease.
 
Scientists have also found other brain changes in people with Alzheimer's disease, including:
 
  • The death of nerve cells in areas of the brain that are vital to memory and other mental abilities
     
  • Disruptions in the connections between nerve cells
     
  • Lower levels of some of the chemicals in the brain that carry messages back and forth between nerve cells.
     
All three of these changes may contribute to the impaired thinking and memory seen with Alzheimer's disease.
 
Although scientists are learning more about this condition every day, the exact causes of Alzheimer's disease are still unknown. And while a few different forms of Alzheimer's treatment can help with related symptoms, there currently is no cure.
 

Risk Factors

Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. In fact, the number of people with this disease doubles every 5 years after age 65.
 
Alzheimer's research scientists are studying the role of genetics in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have discovered three genes that cause early symptoms of (familial) Alzheimer's disease and other genetic mutations that cause excessive accumulations of amyloid protein. The buildup of these proteins is associated with age-related (sporadic) Alzheimer's disease.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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