Alzheimer’s Disease Overview
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disease that destroys memory and thinking skills. Those with Alzheimer’s disease eventually lose the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living, such as dressing or feeding himself or herself. The destruction of brain cells leads to the loss of body functions and death.
Alzheimer’s disease leads to significant shrinkage of the brain. The death of so many brain cells is believed to be caused by plaque build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid and tangled threads of another protein called tau. It is thought that the plague and tangles block communication between nerve cells.
More than 5 million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease and that number is expected to grow as the population ages. After hitting age 65, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. Nearly half of those over age 85 have Alzheimer's.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned names, dates or other information. Someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may place items in inappropriate places – the car keys are discovered in the freezer, for example.
Trouble following a recipe or balancing a checkbook may also be a signal you should see your WellStar physician for a diagnosis.
An early diagnosis provides the opportunity to get the maximum benefit from the limited available treatments. An early diagnosis also allows you to take part in decisions about care and plan financial and legal matters.
- Age is the greatest known risk factor. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65.
- Family history. Those who have a parent, sibling or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease.
- Heart disease. There seems to be a connection between the heart and the brain. High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol that increase the risk for heart disease also appear to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.