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Alzheimer's Disease

Living with Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. It is the most common form of dementia in older people, with symptoms typically first appearing in people age 65 and older.

The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After she died, he examined her brain and found many abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles).

Plaques and tangles in the brain are two of the main features of Alzheimer's disease. The third is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain.

Although treatment can help manage symptoms in some people, currently there is no cure for this devastating disease.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people.

Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer's disease. Unless the disease can be effectively treated or prevented, the number of people with it will increase significantly if current population trends continue. That's because the risk of Alzheimer's increases with age, and the U.S. population is aging.

Alzheimer's is a slow disease that progresses in three stages—an early preclinical stage with no symptoms, a middle stage of mild cognitive impairment, and a final stage of Alzheimer's dementia. The time from diagnosis to death varies—as little as three or four years if the person is older than 80 when diagnosed to as long as 10 or more years if the person is younger.

Fast Facts

  • Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disease that slowly destroys a person's memory, thinking skills, and the ability to perform simple, everyday tasks. In the final stage of the disease, called Alzheimer's dementia, people are completely dependent on others for care.
  • Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia among older people. Estimates vary, but experts suggest as many as 5 million Americans 65 and older may have Alzheimer's. In most cases, the first symptoms appear after age 65.
  • About 5 percent of men and women ages 65 to 74 have Alzheimer's, and nearly half of those age 85 and older are estimated to have the disease.
  • Researchers are seeking volunteers with Alzheimer's and healthy older adults for studies of possible treatments, including drugs and lifestyle interventions like—exercise—to see if they can delay or prevent the disease.

Free Guide for Alzheimer's Caregivers

'Caring for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease'

Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease at home is a difficult task and can become overwhelming at times. Each day brings new challenges, as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. Research has shown that caregivers themselves often are at risk for depression and illness if they don't receive adequate support from family, friends, and the community.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers an easy-to-use guide, Caring for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease, for people who care for family members or others with Alzheimer's disease at home. The guide can help caregivers learn about and cope with the many challenges of AD.

You can read or download this book online at or order a free copy from the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, a service of the National Institute on Aging; Phone: 1-800-438-4380.

Read More "Living with Alzheimer's Disease" Articles

Living with Alzheimer's Disease / What Are the Signs of Alzheimer's Disease? / Preventing Alzheimer's Disease / Quiz: Alzheimer's Disease / Treatment

Winter 2015 Issue: Volume 9 Number 4 Page 8-9