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Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in older people. It is characterized by memory loss, deteriorating language skills, and impaired judgment. This disease affects 5 percent of people ages 65 to 74. The older a person gets, the more likely he or she is to develop it. While treatments exist to help improve symptoms of this condition, there currently 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. The most common form of dementia among older people is Alzheimer's disease (also known simply as Alzheimer's). This condition initially affects parts of the brain that control thinking, memory, and language.
Alzheimer's is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Within the brain tissue, he found abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles). Today, these plaques and tangles in the brain are considered signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Although scientists are learning more every day, the exact causes of Alzheimer's are still unknown, and there is no cure. A few different medications are available to help with related symptoms, but these are only effective for a limited time.

Risk Factors

Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. The number of people with the disease doubles every five years beyond age 65.
Scientists who specialize in Alzheimer's research have discovered three genes that cause early symptoms of familial Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have also identified genetic mutations that cause excessive buildups of amyloid proteins, which are associated with age-related (sporadic) Alzheimer's.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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