Comparison of a normal aged brain (left) and an Alzheimer's patient's brain (right). Differential characteristics are pointed out.
Alzheimer's disease (AD),
also called Alzheimer disease, Senile
Dementia of the Alzheimer Type (SDAT) or simply Alzheimer's,
is the most common form of dementia.
This incurable, degenerative,
disease of Alzheimer's disease was first
described by German
Alzheimer in 1906 and was named after him. Generally it
is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the
Alzheimer's can occur much earlier. An estimated 26.6 million
people worldwide had Alzheimer's in 2006; this number may quadruple
Although each sufferer of Alzheimer's disease experiences Alzheimer's in a unique way, there are many common symptoms. The earliest observable symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be 'age-related' concerns, or manifestations of stress. In the early stages, the most commonly recognised symptom is memory loss, such as difficulty in remembering recently learned facts. When a doctor or physician has been notified, and Alzheimer's disease is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with behavioural assessments and cognitive tests, often followed by a brain scan if available. As the Alzheimer's disease advances, symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general withdrawal of the Alzheimer's disease sufferer as their senses decline. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death. Individual prognosis is difficult to assess, as the duration of the Alzheimer's disease varies. Alzheimer's disease develops for an indeterminate period of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years. The mean life expectancy following diagnosis is approximately seven years. Fewer than 3% of individuals live more than 14 years after diagnosis.
The cause and progression of Alzheimer's disease are not well understood. Research indicates that the Alzheimer's disease is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. Currently used Alzheimer treatments offer a small symptomatic benefit; no treatments to delay or halt the progression of the disease are as yet available. As of 2008, more than 500 clinical trials were investigating possible Alzheimer treatments, but it is unknown if any of them will prove successful. Many measures have been suggested for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease, but their value is unproven in slowing the course and reducing the severity of the Alzheimer treatments. Mental stimulation, exercise, and a balanced diet are often recommended, as both a possible prevention and a sensible way of managing the disease.
Because Alzheimer's disease cannot be cured and is degenerative, management of patients is essential. The role of the main caregiver is often taken by the spouse or a close relative. Alzheimer's disease is known for placing a great burden on caregivers; the pressures can be wide-ranging, involving social, psychological, physical, and economic elements of the caregiver's life. In developed countries, Alzheimer's disease is one of the most economically costly diseases to society.