Alzheimer's Disease: Introduction
Alzheimer's disease is a seriously disabling neurodegenerative disease of the brain. Alzheimer's disease progressively damages and destroys such cognitive processes as memory, orientation, and speech. Alzheimer's disease is not curable and is the most common cause of dementia, a progressive and permanent loss of cognitive and mental performance.
Alzheimer's disease begins subtly but eventually progresses into severe disability and an inability to function safely and effectively in daily life and to meet basic needs. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, and it is one of the ten leading causes of death in the U.S.
The cause of Alzheimer's disease is not yet well understood. However, Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the formation of large numbers of abnormal features in the brain called plaques and tangles. Plaques are dense deposits of protein that build up over time between brain cells. Tangles are twisted fibers of protein that develop inside brain cells. It is believed that plaques and tangles can block communication between brain cells and play a role in brain cell degeneration and brain cell death.
Everyone develops some plaques and tangles as they age, but people with Alzheimer's disease have far greater numbers of them. Plaques and tangles first develop in areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning, but then spread to other areas that control language and thought. This leads to symptoms that include forgetfulness and other problems with memory that become progressively worse. Disorientation, poor judgement, speech difficulties, personality changes, and difficulty completing familiar tasks also occur. Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease eventually progress to become severely disabling. For more details on symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Risk factors for developing Alzheimer's disease include being over age 65 and having a family history of Alzheimer's disease. Other risk factors include a history of severe head injury, alcoholism, and having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other types of cardiovascular disease.
There is no specific diagnostic test that can detect Alzheimer's disease. Making a diagnosis includes a performing a variety of tests and assessments that evaluate the brain and can rule out other causes of Alzheimer's disease symptoms, such as vascular dementia or depression. Diagnosis and treatment may require the collaboration of a variety of providers, including a primary care physician, neurologist, psychiatrist, and/or psychologist.
The diagnostic process begins with taking a thorough personal and family history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. This includes a neurological exam. A neurological exam evaluates the nerves and nervous system and such functions as reflexes, sensation, movement, balance, coordination, vision, and hearing.
Commonly used tests include a mini-mental state examination (MMSE), which evaluates mental function by assessing the answers provided to a series of questions. Imaging tests that are used to help make a diagnosis include CT and MRI, which provide information about the structure of the brain. A PET scan and functional MRI are imaging tests that can show how well different areas of the brain are functioning.
It is possible that a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be missed or delayed because symptoms develop gradually and are similar to symptoms of other diseases and conditions. For more information about diseases and conditions that can mimic Alzheimer's disease, refer to misdiagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is not curable, and at this time there are no treatments that can slow the advancement of the disease. However, there are some medications that may help to reduce some symptoms and maximize independence and the quality of life. There are also clinical trials taking place to research a variety of potential treatments. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of Alzheimer's disease. ...more »
Alzheimer's disease (AD) affects the mental abilities including memory, language, and cognition.
Progressively it leads to dementia and death.
AD usually arises in late middle age or the elderly but there is a rare familial subtype that occurs earlier.
Because AD is so well-known, other causes of dementia or memory loss
may be overlooked.
Other possible diagnoses
include normal aging (if very mild symptoms),
emotional problems, fatigue,
and certain medical conditions
such as thyroid disease, brain tumors,
multi-infarct disease, or Huntington's disease.
In its early stages,
a correct diagnosis of AD can also be overlooked itself and misdiagnosed as other conditions
such as depression, dementia, simple forgetfulness, or senility. ...more »
Alzheimer's Disease: Symptoms
The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease generally develop gradually, and it is believed that the earliest stage of the disease may begin decades before symptoms appear. The way that symptoms of Alzheimer's disease develop varies between individuals. However, every person with Alzheimer's disease ultimately becomes permanently and completely disabled. Symptoms of ...more symptoms »
Alzheimer's Disease: Treatments
There are currently no treatments that can cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The care of people with Alzheimer's disease is aimed at minimizing symptoms and maximizing independence and the quality of life as much as possible.
There are some medications that may help to manage some symptoms, and there are many clinical trials taking place to research a variety of ...more treatments »
Alzheimer's Disease: Misdiagnosis
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease may be delayed or missed because early symptoms develop gradually and are often associated with the normal aging process. In addition, symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can mimic symptoms of a variety of diseases, disorders or conditions. These include TIA, depression, vascular dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jacob ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
See full list of 34
symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease
- Mental stimulation
- Tacrine (THA, Cognex)
- Aricept (donepezil) - reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitors
- Exelon (rivastigmine) - reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitors
- Supportive care
- more treatments...»
See full list of 6
treatments for Alzheimer's Disease
Home Diagnostic Testing
Home medical testing related to Alzheimer's Disease:
- Child Behavior: Home Testing
- Mental Health (Adults): Home Testing
Wrongly Diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's Disease: Related Patient Stories
Alzheimer's Disease: Deaths
Read more about Deaths and Alzheimer's Disease.
Alternative Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease
Alternative treatments or home remedies that have been listed in various sources as possibly beneficial for Alzheimer's Disease may include:
- Resveratrol (found in red wine)
- Grape seed extract
- Oleocanthal (extra virgin olive oil)
- Ashwaghandha (Indian ginseng)
- more treatments »
Types of Alzheimer's Disease
- Familial Alzheimer's disease - an early-onset inherited genetic form.
- more types...»
Read more about Types of Alzheimer's Disease
Curable Types of Alzheimer's Disease
Possibly curable types of Alzheimer's Disease include:
Rare Types of Alzheimer's Disease:
Rare types of Alzheimer's Disease include:
Diagnostic Tests for Alzheimer's Disease
See full list of 9
diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease: Complications
Review possible medical complications related to Alzheimer's Disease:
Causes of Alzheimer's Disease
Read more about causes of Alzheimer's Disease.
More information about causes of Alzheimer's Disease:
Disease Topics Related To Alzheimer's Disease
Research the causes of these diseases that are similar to, or related to, Alzheimer's Disease:
Alzheimer's Disease: Undiagnosed Conditions
Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:
Misdiagnosis and Alzheimer's Disease
Underactive thryoid may be misdiagnosed as depression: Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is an endocrine gland disorder that
is more common in women.
It can mimic...read more »
Undiagnosed stroke leads to misdiagnosed aphasia: BBC News UK reported on a man who
had been institutionalized and treated for mental illness
because he suffered from sudden inability to...read more »
Alzheimer's disease over-diagnosed: The well-known disease of Alzheimer's disease
is often over-diagnosed.
Patients tend to assume that any memory loss or...read more »
Dementia may be a drug interaction: A common scenario in aged care is for
a patient to show mental decline to dementia.
Whereas this can, of course, occur due to various medical...read more »
Tremor need not be Parkinson's disease: There is the tendency to believe that
any tremor symptom, or shakiness, means Parkinson's disease.
The...read more »
Mild traumatic brain injury often remains undiagnosed: Although the symptoms
of severe brain injury are hard to miss,
it is less clear for milder injuries, or even those causing a mild ...read more »
ADHD under-diagnosed in adults: Although the over-diagnoses of ADHD
in children is a well-known controversy, the reverse side related to adults.
Some adults can remain undiagnosed, and indeed the condition has usually been...read more »
MTBI misdiagnosed as balance problem: When a person has symptoms
such as vertigo or dizziness, a diagnosis of brain injury may go overlooked....read more »
Rare diseases misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease: A rare genetic
disorder is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease for men in their 50's.
The disease Fragile X...read more »
Bipolar disorder misdiagosed as various conditions by primary physicians: Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder)
often fails to be diagnosed correctly by primary care physicians.
Many patients with bipolar seek help from...read more »
Eating disorders under-diagnosed in men: The typical patient with
an eating disorder is female.
The result is that men with eating disorders often fail to be diagnosed or
have a delayed diagnosis.
See misdiagnosis of eating...read more »
Depression undiagnosed in teenagers: Serious bouts of depression can be
undiagnosed in teenagers.
The "normal" moodiness of teenagers can cause severe medical depression
to be overlooked.
See ...read more »
Brain pressure condition often misdiagnosed as dementia: A condition
that results from an excessive pressure of CSF within the brain is often misdiagnosed.
It may be misdiagnosed as Parkinson's...read more »
Post-concussive brain injury often misdiagnosed: A study found that soldiers who had
suffered a concussive injury in battle often were misdiagnosed on their return.
A...read more »
Children with migraine often misdiagnosed: A migraine often fails to be
correctly diagnosed in pediatric patients.
These patients are not the typical...read more »
Undiagnosed anxiety disorders related to depression: Patients with depression (see symptoms of depression)
may also have undiagnosed anxiety disorders (see symptoms of anxiety disorders)....read more »
Vitamin B12 deficiency under-diagnosed: The condition of Vitamin B12 deficiency
is a possible misdiagnosis of various conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (see symptoms of multiple sclerosis).
See symptoms of Vitamin B12...read more »
Read more about Misdiagnosis and Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease: Research Doctors & Specialists
Research related physicians and medical specialists:
- Nerve Specialists:
- Mental Health Specialists:
- Neurology (Brain/CNS Specialists):
- more specialists...»
Other doctor, physician and specialist research services:
Hospitals & Clinics: Alzheimer's Disease
Research quality ratings and patient safety measures
for medical facilities in specialties related to Alzheimer's Disease:
Hospital & Clinic quality ratings »
Choosing the Best Hospital:
More general information, not necessarily in relation to Alzheimer's Disease,
on hospital performance and surgical care quality:
Alzheimer's Disease: Rare Types
Rare types of diseases and disorders in related medical categories:
Evidence Based Medicine Research for Alzheimer's Disease
Medical research articles related to Alzheimer's Disease include:
Click here to find more evidence-based articles on the TRIP Database
Alzheimer's Disease: Animations
More Alzheimer's Disease animations & videos
Prognosis for Alzheimer's Disease
Prognosis for Alzheimer's Disease:
Poor. Progressive deterioration from 5-20 years.
More about prognosis of Alzheimer's Disease
Research about Alzheimer's Disease
Visit our research pages for current research about Alzheimer's Disease treatments.
Clinical Trials for Alzheimer's Disease
The US based website ClinicalTrials.gov lists information on both federally
and privately supported clinical trials using human volunteers.
Some of the clinical trials listed on ClinicalTrials.gov for Alzheimer's Disease include:
See full list of 254
Clinical Trials for Alzheimer's Disease
Statistics for Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease: Broader Related Topics
Types of Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease Message Boards
Related forums and medical stories:
User Interactive Forums
Read about other experiences, ask a question about Alzheimer's Disease, or answer someone else's question, on our message boards:
Article Excerpts about Alzheimer's Disease
NINDS Alzheimer's Disease Information Page: NINDS (Excerpt)
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive,
neurodegenerative disease characterized by memory loss, language
deterioration, impaired visuospatial skills, poor judgment, indifferent
attitude, but preserved motor function.
(Source: excerpt from NINDS Alzheimer's Disease Information Page: NINDS)
Alzheimer's Disease: NWHIC (Excerpt)
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in older
people. A dementia is a medical condition that disrupts the way the brain
works. AD affects the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and
language. Every day, scientists learn more about AD, but right now the
cause or causes of the disease are still unknown, and there is no known
cure. An estimated 4 million people in the U.S. suffer from AD. (Source: excerpt from Alzheimer's Disease: NWHIC)
Clinical Trials Alzheimer''s Disease and Related Disorders: NIMH (Excerpt)
ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE (AD) is an age-related and irreversible
brain disorder that occurs gradually and results in memory
loss, behavior and personality changes, and a decline in
thinking abilities. These losses are related to the breakdown
of the connections between nerve cells in the brain and the
eventual death of many of these cells. (Source: excerpt from Clinical Trials Alzheimer''s Disease and Related Disorders: NIMH)
Definitions of Alzheimer's Disease:
A degenerative disease of the BRAIN characterized by the insidious onset of DEMENTIA. Impairment of MEMORY, judgment, attention span, and problem solving skills are followed by severe APRAXIAS and a global loss of cognitive abilities. The condition primarily occurs after age 60, and is marked pathologically by severe cortical atrophy and the triad of SENILE PLAQUES; NEUROFIBRILLARY TANGLES; and NEUROPIL THREADS. (From Adams et al., Principles of Neurology, 6th ed, pp1049-57)
- (Source - Diseases Database)
A progressive form of presenile dementia that is similar to senile dementia except that it usually starts in the 40s or 50s; first symptoms are impaired memory which is followed by impaired thought and speech and finally complete helplessness
- (Source - WordNet 2.1)
Contents for Alzheimer's Disease:
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