What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. It is the most common cause of dementia, which is a group of brain disorders that results in the loss of intellectual and social skills.
With this disease, brain cells degenerate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function.
What is Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease most commonly affects older adults, with the average age of onset close to 80. When Alzheimer disease occurs in someone under age 65, it is known as early onset Alzheimer disease's. It can even affect people in their 30s or 40s.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
Symptoms of the disease typically develop slowly and get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with everyday life. The most common symptom in the early stages of the disease is difficulty remembering recently learned information; this is because Alzheimer’s typically begins in the part of the brain that affects learning.
As the disease advances, it leads to more severe symptoms such as:
- Mood and behavior changes
- Deepening confusion about events, time and place
- Unfounded suspicions about family, friends and caregivers
- More serious memory loss and behavior changes
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking
Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease
Experts report that the majority of Alzheimer’s cases develop as the result of complex interactions among multiple factors, including age, genetics, environment, lifestyle and coexisting medical conditions.
While some of the disease’s risk factors, such as age and genes, can’t be changed, there are some studies that have shown that the same factors that put you at risk of heart disease may also increase the chance that you'll develop Alzheimer's.
Some of those risk factors include lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poorly controlled diabetes, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables and elevated levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which appears in the blood after eating meat.
Studies have also shown that people who have had a severe head trauma or repeated head trauma may be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Although researchers haven’t been able to explain the link yet, studies have found an association between lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities and a reduced risk of the disease.
Factors that may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's include a stimulating job, higher levels of formal education, frequent social interactions and mentally challenging activities, such as reading, playing games or a musical instrument.
However, there are no proven ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease right now. Research into finding strategies to prevent the disease is ongoing. The strongest evidence of preventing Alzheimer’s suggests that you may be able to lower your risk of developing the disease if you reduce your risk of heart disease.
Treating Alzheimer's Disease
A cure for Alzheimer’s does not yet exist. There are only medications and management strategies that help temporarily improve symptoms, which can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s maximize function and maintain their independence longer.
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