It is a condition that permanently affects the brain. It is a group of brain diseases that lead to the loss of mental and physical functions. Only 5 to 6 percent of older people are afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia but this means approximately 3 to 4 million Americans have one of these debilitating disorders. Approximately 10% of all people over the age of 65 and as many as 50% of those over the age of 85 are diagnosed with the condition. Because women tend to live longer than men, more women are affected by AD than men. Furthermore, 80% of caregivers are women, so they are also secondarily affected by the disease.
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not yet fully understood. There probably is not one single cause, but several factors that affect each person differently. Your risk of developing Alzheimer’s appears to be slightly higher if a first-degree relative parent, sister or brother has the disease.
The loss of estrogen production, the lack of a formal education, and severe head trauma resulting in unconsciousness and retrograde amnesia may be risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
The first sign of Alzheimer disease is a continuous pattern of forgetting things like trouble to remembering recent events, activities, or the names of familiar people or things. They may not be able to solve simple math problems. This starts to affect a person’s daily life. Symptoms of the disease include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, personality changes, disorientation, and loss of language skills. Always fatal, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of irreversible dementia.
Other symptoms can include:
* Lack of concentration
* Confusion about time and place
* A tendency to wander aimlessly
* Sometimes saying or doing outrageous things
* Mood can be depressed, anxious or agitated
* Reasoning can be come slow and muddled
* Some people may experience hallucinations or delusions
Some health professionals try to encourage patients to reminisce about past memories as a way to reduce depression without the use of drugs. Donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Reminyl) may keep some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. A doctor may prescribe drugs such as tranquilizers to reduce agitation, anxiety and unpredictable behavior. On average, AD patients live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, though some people may live with AD for as many as 20 years.
Vitamin E slows the progress of some consequences of Alzheimers for about 7 months, and scientists are investigating whether ginkgo biloba can delay or prevent dementia in older people, and if estrogen can prevent Aalzheimers in women with a family history of the disease.