Welcome to our 4-part blog series focused on the most common progressive degenerative disorder seen in today’s aging population…Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
In this opening blog, we will look at the definition of AD, how to differentiate between dementia and AD, common signs of memory loss, and warning signs that indicate it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
It is estimated that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s Disease,currently affecting one in ten of people aged 65 and over. Due to advanced medicine and improved health care, the number of people age 65 and older will more than double between 2010 and 2050 to 88.5 million or 20 percent of the population. In turn, those 85 and older will rise three-fold, to 19 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Like all types of dementia, AD is caused by brain cell death, killing nerve cells and tissue in the brain, causing it to shrink dramatically. Plaques (“amyloid plaques”) are found between the dying cells in the brain, and tangles are within the brain neurons. AD affects a person’s ability to communicate, to think and, eventually, to breathe. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Quick Facts About Alzheimer’s:
- The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning.
- Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s.
- Alzheimer’s worsens over time. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
- Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
- People with memory loss or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends.
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. There is a significant difference between being absent-minded or preoccupied and having Alzheimer’s.