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Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in older people. Dementia is group of symptoms caused by disorders affecting brain functions such as memory, thinking, and judgment. These changes in brain function make it hard to carry out daily activities.

How AD affects daily living depends on the stage of the disease:

  • In the early stages of AD, you may have trouble remembering recent events or the names of people you know.
  • In the middle stages, you may forget how to do simple tasks like brushing your teeth or combing your hair. You may have problems speaking, understanding, reading, or writing.
  • In later stages, you may not be able to think or remember well enough to take care of yourself. You may not have control of your emotions. Your personality might change.
  • In late stages, people with AD need total care.

AD usually begins after age 60, and the risk of getting it goes up with age. In fact, nearly 1 in 2 people older than 85 have AD. But AD is not a normal part of aging. How fast AD progresses varies from person to person. On average, people with AD live from eight to 10 years after they are diagnosed. But some people may live with AD for as many as 20 years. Finding out about Alzheimer's disease early can give you and your family more time to plan for treatment and care.

The cause of AD is unknown, and no treatment can stop the disease. But some drugs might help symptoms, such as memory loss, from getting worse for a limited time. Other drugs may help people feel less worried or depressed.

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More information on Alzheimer's disease

Explore other publications and websites

  • Age Page: Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help - This fact sheet explains the differences between dementia and normal age-related changes in memory. The diagnosis, treatment options, and research issues are considered.
  • Alzheimer's Disease - This website provides general information on Alzheimer's disease. It discusses the causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and further research in reference to this disease. It also provides information for caregivers.
  • Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet - This fact sheet discusses how Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging. It describes the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and care for those with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Alzheimer's Disease Medications Fact Sheet - This publication provides information on the medications used to treat mild to severe symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A table provides the recommended effective dosage and possible side effects for these medicines.
  • Can Alzheimer's Disease Be Prevented? - This brochure explains risk factors for Alzheimer's disease (AD) that can't be controlled — our genes and aging. It also looks at a number of health, lifestyle, and environmental factors, such as high blood pressure and social engagement, that may play a role in developing and/or preventing AD.
  • Depression and Alzheimer's Disease (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) - This fact sheet discusses the link between Alzheimer's disease and depression, how to help a family member suffering from depression and Alzheimer's, the important role a physician can play, and what types of medicines can help. It also includes a resource list for more information.
  • Financial Matters (Copyright © Alzheimer's Association) - This fact sheet from the Alzheimer's Association describes what documents to gather when searching for financial assistance, costs you may face, ways to cover the costs, and more.
  • Home Safety for People With Alzheimer's Disease - This booklet is for those who provide in-home care for people with Alzheimer's disease or related disorders. The goal is to improve home safety by identifying potential problems in the home and offering possible solutions to help prevent accidents.
  • Legal and Financial Planning for People With Alzheimer's Disease - Many people are unprepared to deal with the legal and financial consequences of a serious illness such as Alzheimer's disease. This fact sheet offers advice on legal and financial planning for people with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Top 10 Alzheimer's Symptoms (Copyright © Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation) - this web page provides the top ten 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's, including examples distinguishing normal behaviors from possible Alzheimer's-related behaviors. It also provides links to more in-depth Alzheimer's resources.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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