AOH :: ALZHEIM.TXT|
Questions and answers about Alzheimer's disease
ALZHEIMER'S QUESTION & ANSWER SHEET
Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Assoc. Inc.
70 E. Lake Street, Suite 600
Chicago, Illinois 60601
What is Alzheimer's Disease?
The most common form of dementing illness, Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is a
progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain, causing impaired
memory, thinking and behavior. The person with AD may experience confusion,
personality and behavior changes, impaired judgment, and difficulty finding
words, finishing thoughts or following directions. It eventually leaves its
victims incapable of caring for themselves.
What happens to the brain in Alzheimer's Disease?
The nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls memory, thinking, are
damaged, interrupting the passage of messages between cells. The cells develop
distinctive changes that are called neuritic plaques (clusters of degenerating
nerve cell ends) and neurofibrillary tangles (masses of twisted filaments
which accumulate in previously health nerve cells). The cortex (thinking
center) of the brain shrinks (atrophies), The spaces in the center of the
brain become enlarged, also reducing surface area in the brain.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's Disease is a dementing illness which leads to loss of intellectual
capacity. Symptoms usually occur in older adults (although people in their
40s and 5Os may also be affected) and include loss of language skills -- such
as trouble finding words, problems with abstract thinking, poor or decreased
judgment, disorientation in place and time, changes in mood or behavior and
changes in personality. The overall result is a noticeable decline in personal
activities or work performance.
Who is affected by Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's Disease knows no social or economic boundaries and affects men and
women almost equally. The disease strikes older persons more frequently,
affecting approximately 10% of Americans over age 65 and 47% of those over age
What causes Alzheimer's Disease?
The cause of Alzheimer's Disease is not known. Researchers are investigating
suspected causes such as neurological damage, chemical deficiencies, viruses,
genetic abnormalities, environmental toxins and malfunctions in the body's
disease defense systems.
Is Alzheimer's Disease hereditary?
There is a slightly increased risk that children, brothers, and sisters of
patients with Alzheimer's Disease will get it, but most cases are the only
ones in a family. Some patients who develop the disease in middle age (called
early onset) have a "familial" type -- more than one case in the family. It is
important to note that AD can only be definitively diagnosed after death
through autopsy of brain tissue. Thirty percent of autopsies turn up a
different diagnosis. Families are encouraged to ask for an autopsy as a
contribution to learning more about the genetics of AD.
Are there treatments available for Alzheimer's Disease?
Presently, there is no definite cure or treatment for Alzheimer's Disease.
Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous individuals who market so-called
"cures." These treatments are often expensive and they don't cure AD. However,
since senility is such a scary problem and because families are desperate to
find help for loved ones, these bogus treatments continue to sell. Most of
them have no scientific proof of effectiveness.
How is Alzheimer's Disease diagnosed?
There is no single clinical test for Alzheimer's Disease. It is diagnosed by
ruling out all other curable or incurable causes of memory loss. A positive
diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease can only be made by microscopically studying
a small piece of brain tissue after death. The cerebral cortex of an Alzheimer
brain will have characteristic abnormalities -- cells marred by plaques and
tangles. However, a working diagnosis can be made through various testing
procedures that include a thorough physical as well as neurological and
How long do people with Alzheimer's Disease live?
People diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease may live from two to 20 years after
the onset of memory loss symptoms. It shortens one's expected life span, but
given appropriate care and medical attention, patients often survive for many
years at home or in a nursing home. Death can't usually be predicted until the
very terminal stages. It is common for patients in terminal-stage Alzheimer's
to lose weight, and to have difficulty swallowing, controlling bladder and
bowels, walking and speaking. They may curl into a fetal position. Alzheimer
victims often succumb to a series of repeated infections such as bladder
infections or pneumonia.
What is the scope of Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's afflicts approximately 4 million Americans and it's estimated that
one in three of us will face this disease in an older relative. More than
100,000 die annually, making Alzheimer's Disease the fourth leading cause of
death among adults. Half of all current nursing home patients are affected,
making AD a costly public health and long term care problem. An estimated $80
billion is spent annually on the care of AD, including costs diagnosis,
treatment, nursing home care, at-home care and lost wages. Alzheimer's also
affects the patient's caregivers, who become the second victims. Persons with
AD often require 24-hour care and supervision, most of which is provided in
the home by family and friends. In addition to the tremendous stress of
providing care, families also bear most of the financial burdens of the
disease as well.
Aren't memory problems normal in old people?
Benign, or normal, forgetfulness is part of the normal aging process and
usually begins in early middle age. Most people have some experience
forgetting names, appointments or where they left their keys. However, normal
forgetfulness differs from Alzheimer's Disease in some very important ways.
The Alzheimer patient will frequently become lost in familiar surroundings;
forget names of familiar people; have problems handing money; forget how to
dress, read or write; and lose the ability to use the tools of daily living
such as a key or radio.
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