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Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

Last updated April 13, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting over 40 million people worldwide. And though it was discovered over a century ago, scientists are still grappling for a cure. Ivan Seah Yu Jun describes how Alzheimer's affects the brain, shedding light on the different stages of this complicated, destructive disease.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Alzheimer Disease
  • Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s Disease? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a common, progressive, brain disorder that impacts one’s memory and thinking ability
  • Individuals with AD experience a slow loss of brain function, affecting their ability to remember and think with clarity
  • Due to the progressive nature of the disease, symptoms worsen over time, making it difficult for individuals with the condition to live on their own, and to take part in day-to-day routine/regular activities
  • No cure has been developed for Alzheimer’s Disease though treatments are available to help treat certain symptoms

Who gets Alzheimer’s Disease? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • AD occurs past the age of 60-65 years. This happens frequently and is known as Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It is infrequent below this age range. When it occurs below this age group, it is termed as Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Generally, the female sex is slightly more prone to this disorder than the male sex
  • No particular race or ethnic preference has been observed

What are the Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease? (Predisposing Factors)

There are a host of factors that could potentially increase the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Some may be controlled, while others are unchangeable and often relentless:

  • Age: This factor may enhance the risk
  • Genetic causes: Individuals having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease; particularly those having a close relative, or a sibling
  • Direct risk factors for Alzheimer’s include: High blood pressure, diabetes (type 2), high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine (a condition termed as homocystinuria), depression, past head injury (which may be prolonged)
  • Individuals suffering from mild cognitive impairment; mild loss of memory and impairment of language, thinking skills; all due to old age
  • Food and lifestyle habits, such as smoking of tobacco, cholesterol (high levels of LDL), atherosclerosis due to fat build-up, eating less fruits and vegetables, seclusion from social life, and aloofness, and leading a sedentary life

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases one's chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease? (Etiology)

  • Alzheimer’s Disease is believed to be caused by a combination of factors
  • Genetic mutations are thought to be a major factor in determining who will be affected by Alzheimer’s Disease. Research has found that mutations on the Apolipoprotein E (apoE) gene are common in people with the condition, leading to the belief that it could be a factor causing AD
  • Lifestyle factors are also thought to play an important role in determining who might be affected by AD. Individuals with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems may be more likely to develop this brain disorder
  • Alzheimer’s Disease may also be caused by trauma and injury to the brain

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include the following:

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

A variety of tests can be conducted to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease, which include:

  • Physical exam with a comprehensive evaluation of medical history, including collecting details on any underlying conditions/disorders and their progression.
  • CT, MRI, and PET scans, to view the brain and determine if any medical issues are present.
  • Blood tests may also be used to detect thyroid disorders (if any). If these disorders are found, then AD may be suspected.

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Alzheimer’s Disease?

  • Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause factor for Dementia. Dementia is a type of disorder accompanied by a collection of symptoms that indicate brain impairment and loss of brain function.
  • Since AD is a progressive disorder, it can create difficulties in the life of the individual, and their family members.
  • As symptoms worsen, it becomes more and more difficult for those affected by the condition to carry out even simple, everyday tasks. They are usually unable to live on their own.
  • The symptoms may also worsen to the point of death.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

  • Currently, there exists no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Medical professionals, however, have developed various treatment options to help treat the symptoms of the disease. These include:
    • Use of medications (to treat behavioral problems, aid in performing daily activities)
    • Use of therapy sessions (helps an individual to better remember basic activities, things, etc.)

How can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?

  • Due to the fact that Alzheimer’s Disease is likely caused by multiple factors, it is difficult to prevent the disease.
  • However, preventative measures may be taken, to lower the likelihood of developing the disorder. These include:
    • Mental stimulation/brain exercises
    • Regular exercising
    • Healthy, balanced diet

What is the Prognosis of Alzheimer’s Disease? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • As the length of time with Alzheimer’s Disease increases, symptoms of the disease progressively worsen. In most cases, individuals lose the ability to function in day-to-day life, making them dependent upon their family members, or else by having to move into a nursing home
  • Normally life-long management of the condition is necessary. Early detection and aggressive management of Alzheimer’s dementia, with regular health checkups and supportive care are essential. This will prevent further rapid deterioration of the condition, and help sustain the quality of life
  • Generally, with Alzheimer’s Disease, an individual may live anywhere between 3-20 years, after the onset of the condition. Alzheimer’s that develop early and rapidly and progress at a faster pace, bring about the worst outcomes. Death results from infections, such as pneumonia, or failure of vital organs

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Alzheimer’s Disease:

There are voluntary organizations and support groups for Alzheimer’s Disease that provides counsel, help, and understanding, to the affected individuals and families.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Oct. 17, 2013
Last updated: April 13, 2018