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Alzheimer disease

Definition

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. Alzheimer disease (AD), is one form of dementia. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior.

Alternative Names

Senile dementia - Alzheimer type (SDAT); SDAT

Causes

The exact cause of Alzheimer disease (AD) is not known. Research shows that certain changes in the brain lead to AD developing.

You are more likely to get AD if you:

The following may also increase the risk:

There are two types of AD:

Symptoms

AD symptoms include difficulty with many areas of mental function, including:

AD usually first appears as forgetfulness.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging, and the development of AD. People with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with daily activities. They are often aware of the forgetfulness. Not everyone with MCI develops AD.

Symptoms of MCI include:

Early symptoms of AD can include:

As AD becomes worse, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with the ability to take care of oneself. Symptoms may include:

People with severe AD can no longer:

Other symptoms that may occur with AD:

Exams and Tests

A skilled health care provider can often diagnose AD with the following steps:

A diagnosis of AD is made when certain symptoms are present, and by making sure other causes of dementia are not present.

Tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of dementia, including:

CT or MRI of the brain may be done to look for other causes of dementia, such as a brain tumor or stroke.

The only way to know for certain that someone has AD is to examine a sample of their brain tissue after death.

Treatment

There is no cure for AD. The goals of treatment are:

Medicines are used to:

Before using these medicines, ask the doctor or nurse:

Support Groups

Having Alzheimer disease or caring for a person with the condition may be a challenge. You can ease the stress of illness by seeking support through AD resources. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How quickly AD gets worse is different for each person. If AD develops quickly, it is more likely to worsen quickly.

Persons with AD often die earlier than normal, although a patient may live anywhere from 3 to 20 years after diagnosis.

Families will likely need to plan for their loved one's future care.

The final phase of the disease may last from a few months to several years. During that time, the patient becomes totally disabled. Death usually occurs from an infection or organ failure.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call the health care provider if:

Prevention

Although there is no proven way to prevent AD, there are some measures that may help prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer disease.

These include keeping a low-fat diet and eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Getting physical exercise and staying mentally and socially active also seem to help.

References

Alzheimer's Association. 2013 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures. Washington, DC: Alzheimer's Association. Accessed October 7, 2013.

Apostolova LG, DeKosky ST, Cummings JL. Dementias. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 66.

Bayer A. Presentation and clinical management of dementia. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Woodhouse K, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA; 2010:chap 52.

Camicioli R, Rockwood K. Dementia diagnosis. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Woodhouse K, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA; 2010:chap 51.



Review Date: 9/25/2013
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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