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Alzheimer’s Disease Fast Facts

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia; a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases. In 2018, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $277 Billion by 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion. Early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease could save up to $7.9 trillion in medical and care costs

“An estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s. This number includes an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65″

Today, More Than 5 Million Americans Are Living With Alzheimer’s Disease. By 2050 This Number Could Rise As High As 16 Million.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative condition that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. The disorder is named for Alois Alzheimer, the German doctor who identified it in 1906. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that progresses gradually, eventually having a profound effect on the sufferer’s ability to function, both cognitively and physically. Over time, people with Alzheimer’s need an increasing level of care. 

Alzheimer’s usually develops slowly over a period of years. Symptoms include:

  • Forgetfulness 
  • Confusion
  • Sleeplessness 
  • Wandering 
  • Agitation 
  • Anxiety 
  • Aggression 
  • Restlessness
  • Depression

The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is advancing age. Symptoms tend to appear in the mid-60s. When symptoms appear before the age of 65, the disease is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s. Late-onset Alzheimer’s is by far the more common form of the disease.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

The interplay of age, genetics, environmental influences and inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease is poorly understood. However, it is known that chronic infection, environmental triggers, diabetes, stress, and a history of depression can affect the immune system and contribute to the onset of dementia.

Scientists are studying how age-related changes harm nerve cells and damage the brain. Aging naturally causes shrinking of certain areas of the brain (a process called atrophy). This natural process may work in conjunction with abnormal biochemical processes in the brain to cause Alzheimer’s.

In the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, a toxic protein called beta-amyloid clumps with other protein fragments to form “amyloid plaques.” These hard clumps of protein lodge between the brain’s nerve cells and impair their function.

Abnormal tangles of another protein, “tau,” appear throughout the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The tangles interfere with the processes that keep nerve cells alive. Damaged nerve cells lose their connections with other cells and die.

The causes of Alzheimer’s include genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. Although drug companies have searched for a single “Alzheimer’s gene” that causes the disease, more than 95 percent of people with the disease have no known genetic risk factors.

Another potential cause of the disorder is chronic inflammation in the brain. The immune system normally declines with age, limiting the body’s ability to fight infection. Chronic inflammation can alter the brain’s biochemistry, and elevated levels of inflammatory proteins have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Other potential causes of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Unstable molecules called “free radicals” that affect energy production within brain cells
  • A metabolic gene that may contribute to a family history of Alzheimer’s
  • Two strains of the herpes virus that normally cause brief illnesses in toddlers

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Hereditary?

Genetic factors influence whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s. Even subtle changes in genes can cause the production of abnormal proteins. A single gene can have many variants. Some gene variants increase or decrease Alzheimer’s risk. More than 20 genetic variants are linked with late-onset Alzheimer’s. However, no single gene has ever been directly linked to late-onset Alzheimer’s.

Many cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s are linked to gene mutations passed down from a mother or father. Early-onset Alzheimer’s can result from an inherited change in specific genes in three different locations within cells. Someone who inherits one of these three mutations has a very strong probability of developing Alzheimer’s before age 65. However, early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease accounts for less than 5% of all cases of the disease.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Detected?

Currently, no test can predict whether someone will get late-onset Alzheimer’s. A physician should be consulted when signs of memory loss occur in an older adult. While occasional forgetfulness may not be a cause for concern, persistent memory problems should be evaluated by a doctor. Typically, more severe cognitive and attention deficits follow.

Genetic testing is available for people with a family history of early-onset Alzheimer’s (age 30 to 65). Genetic counselors can help people make decisions about testing and options for the future.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

To diagnose Alzheimer’s, a doctor will look for signs of cognitive impairment. Exams and tests will focus on determining the severity of the impairment and ruling out other potential causes for the symptoms.

Initial exams will look for symptoms including:

  • Impairment of memory or thinking
  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Impairment of daily functioning

Additional tests may be ordered to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms, including Parkinson’s disease, strokes, thyroid disorders, or depression.

Other diagnostic steps may include:

  • More extensive cognitive exams
  • Consultation with a neuropsychologist or neurologist
  • Imaging exams to look for signs of the disease
  • Interviews with family members or friends

PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

Current treatment approaches focus on managing behavioral symptoms and helping people maintain mental function. Treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can provide people with comfort, dignity, and independence for a longer period of time. 

Medications work best for people in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s. They can slow down some symptoms, such as memory loss, for a time. No medications, however, can stop the disease itself.

Medications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several prescription drugs to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s. 

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs include galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil. While scientists do not fully understand how cholinesterase inhibitors work, research shows that they prevent the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is vital to memory and thinking. Over time, cholinesterase inhibitors lose their effectiveness.
  • Memantine is sometimes prescribed for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. This drug may help a person in the later stages of the disease maintain basic functioning for a limited period of time. Because these drugs work differently from cholinesterase inhibitors, the two types of drugs can be prescribed in combination.

Research has shown that treating behavioral symptoms can help keep people with Alzheimer’s more comfortable while easing the task for caregivers. Medications used to treat depression, aggression, restlessness, and anxiety include citalopram, mirtazapine, sertraline, bupropion, duloxetine, and imipramine.

Experts warn that medications for behavioral problems should be tried only after non-drug strategies have failed. It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions when taking any medication, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Let the doctor know before adding or changing any medications.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

Current treatment approaches focus on managing behavioral symptoms and helping people maintain mental function. Treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can provide people with comfort, dignity, and independence for a longer period of time. 

Medications work best for people in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s. They can slow down some symptoms, such as memory loss, for a time. No medications, however, can stop the disease itself.

Medications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several prescription drugs to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s. 

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs include galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil. While scientists do not fully understand how cholinesterase inhibitors work, research shows that they prevent the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is vital to memory and thinking. Over time, cholinesterase inhibitors lose their effectiveness.
  • Memantine is sometimes prescribed for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. This drug may help a person in the later stages of the disease maintain basic functioning for a limited period of time. Because these drugs work differently from cholinesterase inhibitors, the two types of drugs can be prescribed in combination.

Research has shown that treating behavioral symptoms can help keep people with Alzheimer’s more comfortable while easing the task for caregivers. Medications used to treat depression, aggression, restlessness, and anxiety include citalopram, mirtazapine, sertraline, bupropion, duloxetine, and imipramine.

Experts warn that medications for behavioral problems should be tried only after non-drug strategies have failed. It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions when taking any medication, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Let the doctor know before adding or changing any medications.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Prevented?

Researchers are studying the relationship between cognitive decline and vascular conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity promote inflammation that may be associated with Alzheimer’s.

Scientists are studying ways to stave off cognitive decline. A nutritious diet, physical activity, social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits have all been associated with helping people stay healthy as they age.

Follow these tips to stay as healthy as possible:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, leafy greens, fish, and nuts. 
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Keep your mind active and engaged.
  • Control Type 2 diabetes.
  • Keep blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels.
  • Maintain healthy body weight.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Seek treatment for depression.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Watch for significant changes in memory, thinking, and reasoning.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Tips

The most important thing you can do for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is to show love and support. The disorder affects every aspect of daily life. Ways to help include:

  • Create a supportive, comforting environment. Adopt a warm, loving, matter-of-fact manner. Be patient with angry outbursts. Remember, it’s the ”illness talking.”
  • Keep things simple. Embrace a daily routine so your loved one knows when things will happen.
  • Music. Play music they always loved.
  • Help to improve your loved one’s sleep schedule. Limit naps, and plan activities that use energy early in the day. For example, try bathing in the morning or having the largest meal in the middle of the day.
  • Let your loved one know that he or she is safe. Try not to argue with the person about what he or she sees or hears. Comfort the individual instead. 
  • Do not leave a person with Alzheimer’s who has a history of wandering unattended. Make sure your loved one carries ID or wears a medical bracelet. Let neighbors and the local police know if a loved one with Alzheimer’s tends to wander. Place labels in garments to aid in identification.

 

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Alzheimer’s Disease Brain Science

Years before Alzheimer’s symptoms start to appear, subtle changes occur in the brain: 

  • Toxic fragments of beta-amyloid protein trigger neurological damage in the brain. Clumps of protein form “amyloid plaques” that build up between neurons. 
  • Tau is a necessary protein for healthy brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, the protein becomes deformed and tangled, preventing tau from doing its job. 
  • Amyloid plaques and tau tangles create a toxic environment in the brain, causing neurons to shrivel and lose their connections to neighboring neurons.

Researchers have tried targeting beta-amyloid and tau in an attempt to treat Alzheimer’s disease. So far, these experimental therapies have been unsuccessful.

Clinical trials are also underway to find preventative ways to block the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. Researchers are studying whether medications approved for other diseases may help treat Alzheimer’s.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Alzheimer’s Disease. The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Alzheimer’s Disease and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Identifying Preclinical Stages of Alzheimer’s, and PET Imaging to Detect the Earliest Visible Stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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