Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to loss of memory, thinking and other brain functions. AD is not a part of normal aging, but results from a complex pattern of abnormal changes. It usually develops slowly and gradually gets worse as more brain cells wither and die. Ultimately, AD is fatal and currently there is no cure.
AD is the most common type of dementia, a general term used to describe various diseases and conditions that damage brain cells. AD accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Other types include vascular dementia, mixed dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.
Vascular dementia, often considered the second most common type of dementia, refers to impairment caused by reduced blood flow to parts of the brain. One type may develop after a single major stroke blocks blood flow to a large area of brain tissue. Another kind, formerly called “multi-infarct dementia,” can occur when a series of very small strokes clog tiny arteries. Individually, these strokes are too minor to cause significant symptoms, but over time their combined effect becomes noticeable.
Symptoms of vascular dementia can be similar to Alzheimer’s disease. They include problems with memory, confusion and difficulty following instructions. In some cases, the impairment associated with vascular dementia can occur in “steps” rather than in the slow, steady decline usually seen in AD. Mixed dementia is a condition in which AD and vascular dementia occur together. Some experts believe that this combination is also very common. There is some evidence to show that this type of dementia is much more common than once believed.
Dementia with Lewy bodies often starts with wide variations in attention and alertness. Individuals affected by this illness often experience visual hallucinations as well as muscle rigidity and tremors similar to those associated with Parkinson’s disease.
The most common early symptom of AD is difficulty remembering newly learned information.
Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing.
AD changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As AD advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes, deepening confusion about events, time and place, unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers, more serious memory loss and behavior changes, and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
People with memory loss or other possible signs of AD may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. If you need assistance finding a doctor with experience evaluating memory problems, your local Alzheimer's Association chapter can help. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving dramatically. Treatment options and sources of support can improve quality of life.
10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease:
Anyone experiencing significant memory problems should see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving dramatically, and treatment options and sources of support can improve quality of life.
An early diagnosis helps individuals receive treatment for symptoms and gain access to programs and support services. It may also allow them to take part in decisions about care, living arrangements, money and legal matters.