Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of several causes of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of several causes of dementia, a brain problem that makes it difficult for you to complete daily tasks without help. For many people, AD starts with changes in memory, but some people with AD also have changes in language, mood or thinking skills.

What Causes AD?

The cause of AD is unknown. Scientists know that in AD there is a large build-up of proteins called amyloid and tau within brain cells. These proteins occur normally, but we do not yet understand why they build up in large amounts. The disease process can go on for many years without symptoms, but as more and more proteins form in brain cells, the cells lose their ability to function and eventually die. This causes the affected parts of the brain to shrink.

How is Age Related to AD?

Most people with AD start having symptoms after age 65, although some people have shown signs as early as age 40.

What Happens in AD?

For many people, the first sign of AD is a change in memory, but others may have changes in mood, language or thinking skills. For example, some people with AD may have trouble remembering to pay the bills or organizing tasks at work. Others may have more trouble with planning, difficulty talking or getting lost in familiar environments. AD can also affect a person’s mood, and people with AD may become depressed, anxious, paranoid or irritable. The early symptomatic stage of AD is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

People with AD gradually need more help from others to complete their daily tasks. They may need help paying their bills, shopping, taking their medications or remembering appointments. Late in the disease, people may need help with bathing and dressing.

AD is a disease that changes with time. A person with AD can live many years with the disease. Research suggests that a person with AD may live from eight to 20 years or more, although this can vary from person to person.

Are There Medicines to Treat AD?

Though there is no cure for AD yet, there are medications that help manage the symptoms. There are two general types of medications used to treat AD, the cholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil and rivastigmine, for example) and one NMDA receptor antagonist (memantine). These medications can help improve cognition, but they do not reverse or slow down the disease process in the brain. Often times, people with AD can have mood changes, such as depression or irritability. These can be managed by medications like the ones used for depression or anxiety.

What Other Things Help?

In addition to medications, there are various ways to help a person with AD. Research has shown that physical exercise helps to enhance brain health and improves mood and general fitness. A balanced diet, enough sleep, and limited alcohol intake are other important ways to promote good brain health. Other illnesses that affect the brain, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, should also be treated if present.