What is Alzheimer's Disease? Questions and Answers


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1. What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disease that destroys memory, thinking, and the ability to carry out daily activities. The symptoms get worse over time. Eventually, people with this disease will need full-time care.

2. What is dementia?

Dementia is the general term for a group of brain disorders that causes problems with thinking, memory, and behavior severe enough to interfere with daily activities of life. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, followed by multi-infarct dementia, which is caused by a series of strokes. Some of the other diseases that cause dementia are Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus, Pick's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lewy body disease, and Huntington's disease. Symptoms of dementia may also be caused by depression, drug interaction, metabolic disorders (such as thyroid problems), head injury, vision or hearing problems, tumors, and infection.  Getting a diagnosis of what is causing dementia symptoms is important because some of these conditions are reversible with the right treatment. Although Alzheimer’s is not reversible, the correct diagnosis helps you get treatments to help with symptoms and quality of life

3. What is senile dementia?
Senile dementia is an outdated term once used to refer to any form of dementia that occurred in older people.

4. What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a borderline condition between normal, age-related memory loss and early Alzheimer's disease. Individuals with MCI have memory problems beyond what is expected for their age with no other clinical signs of dementia. Individuals with MCI have a greater chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.

5. How many people have Alzheimer's disease?
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 6.5 million people of all ages have Alzheimer's disease in the United States. In Texas, approximately 400,000 people age 65 and older have Alzheimer's disease.

6. What is the age of most people with Alzheimer's disease? An estimated 6.5 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022.

  • About 1 in 9 people (10.7%) age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The percentage of people with Alzheimer's dementia increases with age: 5.0% of people aged 65 to 74, 13.1% of people aged 75 to 84, and 33.2% of people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer's dementia.

7. Does Alzheimer's disease occur in younger adults?
Yes - the disease can occur in people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s; however, most people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are older than age 65. 

8. What causes Alzheimer's disease? 
Researchers believe there is no single cause of Alzheimer's disease. It likely develops from many factors like genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Scientists have identified factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. While some risk factors like age, family history, and heredity can't be changed, new evidence suggests there may be other factors we can influence. 

9. If a member of my family has Alzheimer's disease, am I at increased risk for developing it?
Two types of Alzheimer's disease exist. They are familial Alzheimer's disease (FAD), which is an early-onset form of the disease that appears to be inherited, and sporadic Alzheimer's disease, where no obvious inheritance pattern is seen. Approximately 5% of Alzheimer's disease is familial and approximately 95% is sporadic. In familial Alzheimer's disease, several members of the same generation in a family are often affected. Sporadic Alzheimer's disease develops as a result of a variety of factors, which scientists are still attempting to determine. Age is the most important known risk factor for sporadic Alzheimer's disease.

10. Do men or women have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease?
Although both men and women can develop Alzheimer's disease, it primarily affects women. More women than men die from the disease, possibly because women generally live longer than men.

11. What is the relationship between aluminum and the development of Alzheimer's disease?
One of the most publicized and controversial hypotheses in Alzheimer's disease research concerns aluminum. It became a suspect in Alzheimer's disease when it was first discovered in trace amounts in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. Since then, many studies have failed to provide consistent or conclusive evidence of its link to Alzheimer's disease.

12. What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease? 
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms get worse over time. What types of symptoms, when they appear, and how they change over time will vary from person to person. 
The most common first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is gradual loss of memory:

  • Putting items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in the refrigerator
  • Using the wrong word for common objects, such as pencil
  • Having trouble balancing the checkbook
  • Suddenly stopping a favorite hobby because they can’t remember how to do it
  • Forgetting the names of family and friends or not recognizing them

Other symptoms that may appear over time:

  • Confusion
  • Wandering
  • Pacing
  • Problems with driving
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Angry outbursts
  • Being suspicious of family and friends
  • Difficulties with activities of daily living, such as eating and bathing
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Repetitive speaking or action
  • Loss of speech
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control

Eventually, the person with Alzheimer’s disease will require full-time care.

13. How is Alzheimer's disease diagnosed?
No single clinical test can be used to identify Alzheimer's disease. A comprehensive evaluation includes:

  • Health history
  • Physical examination
  • Neurological & mental status assessments
  • Blood and urine analysis
  • Electrocardiogram
  • An imaging exam, such as a CT or MRI

This type of evaluation may provide a diagnosis of possible or probable Alzheimer's disease with up to 90 % accuracy. Absolute confirmation requires examination of brain tissue at autopsy. For more information visit the Alzheimer’s Association: Diagnosis Information

(En Español: Diagnostico)

14. How important is a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease?
Getting a diagnosis of what is causing dementia symptoms is important because some conditions that cause dementia symptoms are reversible with the right treatment. Although Alzheimer’s is not reversible, the correct diagnosis helps you get treatments to help with symptoms and quality of life. It also allows individuals living with the disease and their family caregivers to plan as early as possible for the future.

15. How long do people with Alzheimer's disease live after developing the disease?
Every case is different, and the progression of the disease varies from person to person. On average, from the onset of symptoms, people with Alzheimer's disease can live from eight years (the average) up to 20 years.  

16. How is Alzheimer's disease treated?
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease. The drugs donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), or galantamine (Reminyl) may help with symptoms. Some behavioral symptoms such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression can be reduced by helping people with Alzheimer's disease and their family caregivers learn ways to identify triggers for these behaviors and methods to help manage them. Some medicines may help with behavioral symptoms if clinically necessary. For more information on treatment, visit the Alzheimer's Association: Treatment Information

(En Español: Tratamientos)


Sources of information:

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Clinical Practice Guidelines, Number 19
  • Alzheimer's Association
  • Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center
  • National Institute on Aging/National Library of Medicine