What is Alzheimer’s disease?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Most people with the disease get a diagnosis after age 65. If it’s diagnosed before then, it’s generally referred to as “younger onset” or “early onset” Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease.

Alzheimer’s facts
Although many people have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s helpful to know the facts. Here are some key details about this condition:

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic (long-term), ongoing condition. It is not a typical sign of aging.
Alzheimer’s and dementia aren’t the same thing. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia.
Its symptoms come on gradually, and the effects on the brain are degenerative, meaning they cause slow decline.
Anyone can get Alzheimer’s disease, but certain people are at higher risk for it. This includes people over age 65 and those with a family history of the condition.
There’s no single expected outcome for people with Alzheimer’s. Some people live a long time with mild cognitive damage, while others experience a more rapid onset of symptoms and quicker disease progression.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and may improve quality of life.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Everyone has episodes of forgetfulness from time to time. But people with Alzheimer’s disease display certain ongoing behaviors and symptoms that worsen over time. These can include:

memory loss affecting daily activities, such as keeping appointments
trouble with familiar tasks, such as using a microwave
difficulties with problem-solving
trouble with speech or writing
becoming disoriented about times or places
decreased judgment
decreased personal hygiene
mood and personality changes
withdrawal from friends, family, and community
These signs don’t always mean that a person has Alzheimer’s. It’s important to see a doctor to determine the cause.

Symptoms change according to the stage of the disease. In later stages, people with Alzheimer’s often have significant trouble with talking, moving, or responding to what’s happening around them.

Alzheimer’s medication
There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, your doctor can recommend medications and other treatments to help ease your symptoms and delay the progression of the disease for as long as possible.

For early to moderate Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe medications such as donepezil (Aricept) or rivastigmine (Exelon). These drugs can help maintain high levels of acetylcholine in your brain. This can help the nerve cells in your brain send and receive signals better. In turn, this may ease some symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

A newer medication called aducanumab (Aduhelm) is recommended only for those with early Alzheimer’s. It is thought to reduce the protein plaques that build up in the brain with Alzheimer’s. However, there are some concerns about whether the drug’s potential benefits outweigh its risks.

To treat moderate to late stage Alzheimer’s, your doctor may prescribe donepezil (Aricept) or memantine (Namenda). Memantine can help block the effects of excess glutamate. Glutamate is a brain chemical that’s released in higher amounts in Alzheimer’s disease and damages brain cells.

Your doctor may also recommend antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or antipsychotics to help treat symptoms related to Alzheimer’s. These symptoms vary based on the progression of the disease, and can include:

  • depression
  • difficulty sleeping at night
  • agitation
  • hallucinations. Although the care needs of a person with Alzheimer’s will increase over time, the exact symptoms will be different from person to person.

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