by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that destroys brain cells and structures. People with Alzheimer's disease slowly lose the ability to learn, function, and remember.
Areas of the Brain Affected by Alzheimer's Disease
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The cause of Alzheimer's disease is not yet known. Studies suggest that two main mechanisms may result in the clinical picture of the disease:
Plaques- abnormal deposits of a substance called beta amyloid in different areas of the brain
Neurofibrillary Tangles- twisted fibers within nerve cells
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
Researchers are studying the following to see if they are related to Alzheimer's disease:
Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease come on gradually. They begin as mild memory lapses, and progress to profound loss of memory and function. Alzheimer's disease is divided into three stages: Early, Intermediate, and Severe.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. There are no tests to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's disease. The doctor will ask many questions to rule out other causes of your symptoms.
Tests to rule out other medical conditions may include:
There are no treatments to cure Alzheimer's disease and no certain ways to slow its progression. Four medications have received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the treatment of some symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia. Researchers are studying various drugs to see if they can manage the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or slow its course.
Medications for Symptoms and Disease Progression
Medications being used and studied include:
SEE ALSO Dementia
Managing the disease includes:
Medications to treat the psychiatric symptoms that may occur with Alzheimer's disease include:
Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease is extremely difficult and exhausting. The primary caregiver needs emotional support, as well as regular respite.
There are no guidelines for preventing Alzheimer's disease because the cause is unknown.
Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center
American Academy of Neurology website. Available at www.aan.com/professionals
Accessed October 12, 2005.
Goetz CG. Textbook of Clinical Neurology , 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 1999.
Green RC, Cupples LA, Go R, et al. Risk of dementia among white and African-American relatives of patients with Alzheimer disease. JAMA . 2002 Jan 16;287(3):329-36.
Kasper DL, Braunwald E, Fauci AS, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine , 16th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2005.
Rakel RE, Bope ET. Conn's Current Therapy , 53rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2001.
Rowland LP, Merritt HH. Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (chapter 106). Merritt's Neurology . Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2000.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.