Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible and progressive disorder that damages and destroys brain cells, inducing memory loss and negatively impacting cognitive abilities, such as thinking skills and reasoning. There are two types of Alzheimer's disease:

  • early-onset Alzheimer's: develops between the ages of 30 and 60
  • late-onset Alzheimer's: occurs in people over the age of 60

Alzheimer's disease is also the leading cause of dementia, accounting for 50% to 80% of cases. Although there is no current cure for Alzheimer's, much research has gone in to finding treatments that can slow the worsening symptoms of dementia and improve quality of life for those who suffer from the disorder.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are very similar to general dementia symptoms. Testing can eliminate other causes, but Alzheimer's disease can't be diagnosed with 100% accuracy until after an individual dies and a neuropathologist performs an autopsy. Symptoms that may indicate Alzheimer's disease include:

  • Memory loss
  • Problems with planning or problem solving
  • Losing track of time
  • Having vision problems
  • Misplacing things
  • Poor decision making
  • Problems with speaking or writing
  • Changes in mood and personality

Causes

The causes of Alzheimer's disease are not yet fully understood, but for the most part, scientists believe that a combination of factors may increase the chances of the disease developing. These factors include genetics, age, environment, and life-style choices. The significance of how each factor plays a role in the risk of developing the disease will vary from patient to patient.

For the most part, however, Alzheimer's more commonly affects older adults, over the age of 60, who have experienced age-related changes to the brain. For the less than 5% of people with Alzheimer's disease who have early-onset Alzheimer's, however, the development of the disease has often been linked to genetics, though it is not always the case. Also, healthy life-style choices, such as regular physical activity, a good diet, and continuous mental stimulation, have been known to reduce the risk of development.

Treatments

While there is not yet a cure for halting or reversing the destruction of brain cells caused by Alzheimer's disease, there are different treatments available to slow or manage the symptoms of the disorder, as well as programs and activities to help improve the quality of life for both the patient and the patient's loved ones.

Medication is one option for treating memory loss, communication skills, certain behavioral problems, and other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. There are several drugs available to choose from, but the four Alzheimer's drugs approved by the FDA are: donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne), and memantine (Namenda). Before taking these or any medication, however, it is important to discuss the benefits and side-effects of each drug with your doctor or health care professional in order to find out which one is right for you or your loved one. It is also important to note that, due to the varying severity of symptoms for each individual, these drugs may not be as effective for some patients as they are for others.

There are also ways of managing symptoms of Alzheimer's without the use of drugs, including different types of therapies, like art or music therapy, which can stimulate the senses and improve a patient's mood and behavior. Taking supplemental remedies, like omega-3 fatty acids, coral calcium, and ginkgo biloba, have likewise been shown to promote memory and delay symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, studies have shown that continuous cognitive training and regular exercise may help slow the progression of Alzheimer's symptoms.