Alzheimer’s disease is the single most common cause of dementia in adults over age 65. The Alzheimer’s Association states, “Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years.” In the advanced stages, this devastating disease is often accompanied by a complete loss of independence, as well as an inability to remember even very important parts of the sufferer’s life, including his or her own children and grandchildren. While Alzheimer’s disease is progressive and incurable, treatments are available that may be able to delay the progression of the disease. With these treatments, many people with Alzheimer’s disease have been able to stay relatively high-functioning for the duration of their lives.
Causes. The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown, though the effects of the disease suggests that something in the way brain cells works goes wrong. The result can be tangled masses of neural fibers, as well as abnormal deposits of proteins within the brain. It really isn’t clear whether Alzheimer’s disease is a single issue with a common cause in all cases, or if it’s a collection of diseases with similar symptoms. Inability to find the exact cause has slowed the development of effective treatments, though current treatments work to control the known symptoms.
Warning signs. The most obvious signs of Alzheimer’s disease are the changes in memory and cognition. If you notice that you’re increasingly forgetting things, losing your way in well-known places and having difficulty concentrating on simple tasks, then you need to make an appointment with your doctor. At this stage, it could be many things aside from Alzheimer’s disease, and it may just be a matter of lifestyle changes, brain exercises or mental health management to bring back your cognitive skills. However, if it is early stages of Alzheimer’s, or some other cause for dementia, then it is imperative that you are diagnosed and begin treatment as quickly as possible.
Diagnosis. Diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, will often reveal the characteristic fiber tangles and “plaques” (protein deposits) in the brain. In addition, physical and mental exams may be able to reveal whether memory loss issues have gone beyond that which is associated with normal aging.