Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of brain disorders that impair a person’s mental functioning, especially memory, thinking, and behavior. The term dementia literally means loss of mentation or thinking. Dementia is a broad term which describes the loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and normal emotional reactions.
Most people with dementia are older, but it is important to remember that most older people do not get dementia. It is not a normal part of the ageing process. Dementia can happen to anybody, but it is more common in people over 65 years of age. People in their 40s and 50s can also develop dementia.
There are many different forms of dementia and each has its own causes. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for between 50% and 70% of all dementia cases.
At the current time, Alzheimer’s is progressive and irreversible. However, a great deal of research is being conducted, and a range of treatments are already available.
For a person suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, abnormal changes occur in the their brain over time, and the effects of these changes worsen as time goes by. Eventually, Alzheimer’s interferes with many aspects of brain function.
As people age, brain cells die and the substance of the brain shrinks. In Alzheimer’s sufferers, abnormal material builds up as tangles in the center of the brain cells and plaques outside the brain cells, disrupting messages within the brain and damaging connections between brain cells. Chemical changes also occur in the brain, leading to the eventual death of the brain cells.
Alzheimer’s Disease advances in stages, progressing from mild forgetfulness to severe loss of mental abilities.
Short-term memory loss is one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, followed by long-term memory loss, and then a gradual decline in other intellectual, thinking, and problem solving abilities. Changes may also occur in personality or behavior.
In advanced Alzheimer’s, people become dependent on others for every aspect of their care.
The time course of the disease varies by individual, ranging from five to 20 years. The most common cause of death is infection following the decline of the person’s immune system. This is a symptom of old age, and is not caused by Alzheimer’s.