By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and affects millions of individuals worldwide. Dementia is a medical term that refers to a loss of mental ability, caused by the death of brain cells over time.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, but a number of factors are thought to increase the risk of developing the illness and some of these include:
- Being older than 65 years
- A family history of Alzheimer’s disease
- Previous history of head injury
- Lifestyle factors linked to cardiovascular disease such as smoking
As a progressive condition, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease develop gradually and become more severe over time. The first symptom is usually a minor affect on the memory, with an individual forgetting about a recent conversation, event or the name of an object or place, for example. Gradually, memory problems worsen and other symptoms start to develop such as confusion, personality changes, hallucination, language and speech difficulties and difficulty moving around independently.
Diagnosis and treatment
Due to the slow, progressive nature of this disease, it often goes unrecognized in the early stages. Dementia and memory problems are often considered a normal part of aging and there is no one test for Alzheimer’s disease. However, an early diagnosis can help people to plan and prepare for the future, so people suspected of having the condition should be supported in seeking medical advice.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but several medications may improve certain symptoms as well as slowing disease progression in some individuals. Psychological treatments that can help memory and language ability, for example, may also be prescribed.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Oct 16, 2014