Back To All Health Conditions

Alzheimer's Disease

About Alzheimer's Disease

In this section, you or a loved one can find out more about medical treatments and practical information about Alzheimer's disease. Read on to find answers to some of your questions as well as links to other information. Being informed is an important first step toward becoming an active decision-maker in your care plan.

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's is a brain disease that causes a decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. Symptoms develop slowly and worsen over time, eventually becoming severe enough to impede everyday life.

What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?

Scientists know that Alzheimer's disease involves cells in your brain not working correctly and eventually dying, but they don't fully understand why this happens. Experts believe that Alzheimer's disease usually develops as a complex result of many reasons (called "risk factors") rather than any specific cause. 

The greatest risk factors for Alzheimer's are older age, having a family history of Alzheimer's and carrying specific genes related to Alzheimer's. The discovery of additional risk factors will deepen our understanding of why Alzheimer's appears in some people and not in others. 

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and changes in other brain functions. Alzheimer's develops slowly and gets worse as brain function declines and brain cells eventually die. Although patients can live for several years with Alzheimer's disease it is eventually fatal, and currently, there is no cure. 

Age – The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is increasing age. After age 65, the risk of Alzheimer's doubles every five years. After age 85, nearly 50% of people develop Alzheimer's. 

Family history – Research shows that those who have a family history of Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. Environmental factors may also play a role.

What Are the Effects of Alzheimer's Disease?

Early Stage

Early stage refers to people who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the beginning stages of the disease. A person in the early stages may experience mild changes in their memory and ability to think and learn, but can continue to participate in daily activities. The early stages of Alzheimer's can last for years. 

In the early stages of Alzheimer's, a person can usually function independently. The role of the caregiver is an important one, providing support and helping to plan for the future. The degree of assistance needed from a caregiver in this stage varies. 

A person with early-stage Alzheimer's may need help with the following: 

  • Appointments 
  • Familiar tasks 
  • Managing money 
  • Planning/organizing 
  • Recalling places or people 
  • Remembering words or names 
  • Tracking medications 

Middle Stage

During the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease the person may jumble words, have trouble dressing, get frustrated or angry, or act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. These are difficult changes and resources are available to help caregivers and the person with Alzheimer's the disease progresses. 

The middle stage of Alzheimer's disease can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer's will require more and more care. It's important for caregivers to get support during this stage. 

As the abilities of the person with Alzheimer's disease change, caregivers will have to take on more responsibility. Daily routines and structure are very important. As the demands of caregiving become more challenging, it's important for caregivers to also take care of themselves. Find out what services are available in the community and accept help from friends, neighbors and loved ones. 

Late Stage

A person with late-stage Alzheimer's disease will usually experience these problems and will need help: 

  • Having difficulty walking (eventually is unable to walk) 
  • Having difficulty swallowing and eating 
  • Needing help with personal care 
  • Losing the ability to communicate with words 
  • Being vulnerable to infections (especially pneumonia) 

The late stage of Alzheimer's disease may last from several weeks to several years. As the disease advances, around-the-clock care is required. Late-stage care decisions are some of the hardest families can face. Connect with other families and caregivers through online message boards and other Alzheimer's communities. 

Your Role as Caregiver

During the late stage of Alzheimer's, your role as a caregiver focuses on preserving quality of life and dignity. At this point in the disease, the world is experienced through the senses. You can express your caring through touch, sound, sight, taste and smell. 

Ways to connect and care for late stage Alzheimer's patients: 

  • Brush person's hair 
  • Look at photos 
  • Play favorite music 
  • Prepare favorite food 
  • Read books that have meaning for the person 
  • Rub lotion on the person's skin 
  • Sit and enjoy a beautiful day 

Late-stage care options

Deciding on late-stage care can be one of the most difficult decisions families face. Regardless of where care takes place, the decision is about making sure your loved one is taken care of and receives the attention they need. 

Are There Other Complications?

Memory loss: One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's is memory loss. Other signs include: forgetting important dates, asking for information over and over and needing to rely on memory aids. 

Solving problems: Some people may experience changes in their ability to follow a plan. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of expenses. They may have difficulty concentrating and take longer to do things. 

Completing tasks: Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, or remembering the specifics of a game or activity. 

Time or place: People with Alzheimer's can lose track of the passage of time. At times they may forget where they are or how they got there. 

Speaking or writing: People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following a conversation. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name. 

Misplacing things: A person with Alzheimer's may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. 

Lifestyle Options

For most people, regardless of having Alzheimer's disease or not, exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits are recommended. A healthy lifestyle can lead to enhanced quality of life for most people. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes. 

Regular physical exercise may help lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow in the brain. Because of its known cardiovascular benefits, a medically approved exercise program is a valuable part of any overall wellness plan. 

Current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating may also help protect the brain. Heart-healthy eating includes limiting the intake of sugar and saturated fats and making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

Please be sure to consult with your physician.

Medical Treatment

Scientists are working right now to find a cure, but currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's.

Please be sure to consult with your physician.

FIND CLINICAL TRIALS NEAR ME

What Is a Clinical Trial?

Find out all about clinical trials.

What to expect in a clinical trial

All the information and answers you need before, during and after a clinical trial.