Alzheimer’s Disease (pronounced AHLZ-high-merz) is a complex
neurological disease that affects the brain. Approximately
5.6 million Americans have this disease (Alzheimer’s
Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures) with
another approximately 200,000 who have the more rare
Alzheimer’s Disease advances at widely different rates.
The duration of the illness varies, but normally lasts from
four to eight years after the diagnosis is made, although a
person may live for as many as 20 years. The areas of the
brain that control memory and thinking skills are affected
first, but as the disease progresses, cells die in other
regions of the brain. Eventually, the person with Alzheimer’s
Disease will need comprehensive care. If the individual has
no other serious illness, the loss of brain functioning itself
will lead to death.
The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s Disease will continue
to grow – by 2050, the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s
Disease is estimated to rise to approximately 14 million
(Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and
Finding a treatment that could delay onset of the disease by
five years could reduce the number of individuals with
Alzheimer’s Disease by nearly 50 percent within 50 years.
In a Gallup poll commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association,
1 in 10 Americans said that they had a family member with
Alzheimer’s and one in three knew someone with the disease
(“Helping Kids Understand Alzheimer’s”. Jennifer Moor, The
Hartford Courant, March 20, 2006).
Although many things about Alzheimer’s Disease remain a mystery,
research continues to bring us a better understanding of the
disease, more accurate diagnosis, and more effective treatments.
No one knows yet exactly what causes Alzheimer’s Disease.
Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s
Disease. One in 10 individuals over 65 and nearly a third of those
over 85 are affected. Rare, inherited forms of Alzheimer’s
Disease can strike individuals as early as their 30’s and 40
There are two abnormal structures in the brain associated
with Alzheimer’s Disease. Amyloid plaques (pronounced
AM i loyd) are clumps of protein fragments that accumulate
outside of cells. Neurofibrillary tangles (pronounced
NUR o FI bri lair ee) are clumps of altered proteins
A family history of the disease may be a potential
Some evidence suggests that disorders such as high
cholesterol and high blood pressure—factors
that cause strokes and heart disease—may potentially
increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s
People with Alzheimer’s Disease experience difficulties
communicating, learning, thinking and reasoning –
problems which eventually may become severe enough
to have a functional impact on an individual's work,
social activities and family life.
Through the course of the disease, behavioral indicators
1. Memory Loss for recent experiences,
and later, for
2. Difficulty performing familiar
3. Problems with language.
4. Disorientation in time and place.
5. Poor or decreased judgment.
6. Problems with abstract thinking.
7. Misplacing things.
8. Change in mood or behavior.
9. Change in personality.
10. Loss of initiative.
For people with Dementia,
and their families,
early diagnosis has many advantages:
- time to make choices that maximize quality
- reduced anxiety about unknown problems
- a better chance of benefiting from treatment
- more time to plan for the future
There are several drug treatments that may temporarily
stabilize symptoms or slow down the progression of
Alzheimer's Disease. There are numerous care strategies
and activities that may minimize or prevent behavioral
problems. Researchers continue to look for new treatments
to alter the course of the disease and other strategies
to improve the quality of life for people with Dementia.
The following stages fall within the more general
categories of early-stage, mid-stage, and late-stage
No cognitive impairment: The individual neither experiences
or is observed to be experiencing memory problems.
Stage 2 (Early Stage):
Very mild cognitive decline: The individual experiences
memory lapses, usually for recently learned information.
Examples include forgetting familiar words or names,
or where his/her glasses are.
Mild cognitive decline: Family, friends, or co-workers
begin to notice difficulties. Problems with newly
learned information or concentration may be measurable
in clinical testing.
Stage 4 (Mid-Stage):
Moderate cognitive decline: A careful assessment by
a professional detects clear cut deficits in the following
areas: decreased recall of recent events; impaired
ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic or
execute financial tasks; decreased ability to perform
complex tasks, such as shopping or planning dinner
Moderately severe cognitive decline: The individual
experiences major gaps in memory. At this stage, individuals
may: become confused about where they are or about
the date; have trouble with less challenging mental
arithmetic; need help choosing proper clothing for
the season, eat poorly and may sleep excessively.
Severe cognitive decline: The individual’s memory
difficulties worsen, personality changes emerge, and
affected individuals need extensive help with customary
daily activities. At this stage, individuals may:
lose most awareness, recollect personal history imperfectly,
occasionally forget the name of their spouse or other
close family members, need help getting dressed properly,
tend to wander and become lost.
Stage 7 (Late Stage):
Very severe cognitive decline: This is the final stage
of the disease when individuals may lose the ability
to meaningfully respond to their environment, the
ability to speak, and ultimately, the ability to control
Myths about Alzheimer’s
Memory loss is a natural progression of aging.
Aging does not necessitate that we must, by default,
lose the ability to process and retain information.
Alzheimer’s Disease is not the same as having
Alzheimer’s Disease is one type of
Head injury can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.
There is no meaningful research to suggest that head
trauma is directly or significantly linked to Alzheimer’s
Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum
pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.
research does support some correlation with the presence
of aluminum in the brain of individual’s with
Alzheimer’s Disease, no clear causal relationship
has been found.
Aspartame causes memory loss.
No one causal factor is attributed to Alzheimer’s
There are therapies available to stop the progression
of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Interventions currently available are designed to
slow down and/or manage aspects of the Disease, but
not stop, or reverse its course.
*The Alzheimer’s Association