Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological condition which slowly damages nerve cells and connections between them in the brain causing symptoms such as forgetfulness, inattentiveness, and language problems. This disease is progressive, causing a person to slowly to lose the ability to live independently.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

Though these two terms sometimes are used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Dementia means that the person having it has memory and thinking impairment which is significant enough to affect ones’ independent living. It does not tell what causes this impairment.

Alzheimer’s disease leads to dementia and is caused by specific chemical changes in the brain.

Dementia is an umbrella term used for many disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and describes the stage of the disease at which independent living is impaired.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by gradual loss of nerve cells and connections between them in the brain. This is caused by build up of altered protein called amyloid in the brain tissue, and specific chemical changes occurring inside the nerve cells. These changes impair new memory formation and causes other symptoms. The reason these chemical alterations start is still not clear.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease usually presents with slowly worsening forgetfulness. This can manifest by repeating conversations or asking the same questions. Some people might initially have problems with directions, or have worsening difficulties finding words. Some patients are aware of the deficits, while others do not.

At what age does Alzheimer’s disease usually present?

Alzheimer’s disease usually presents after the age of 65. In rare cases, especially if person carries specific genetic mutations, it can present at a younger age.

What treatment is available for Alzheimer’s disease?

There are several pharmacological therapies available to slow down disease related functional decline. These medications work on certain enzymes or receptors in the brain. So far there are no medications approved which would stop or slow down chemical changes happening in the brain during disease process. It is also known that staying physically and mentally active helps to prolong independence for people who have Alzheimer’s. 

What is the risk for my children to develop Alzheimer’s disease if I was diagnosed with this condition?

Only a minority of patients (approximately 1%) have specific genetic mutations causing Alzheimer’s disease. These mutations are located in amyloid precursor protein, presenilin 1 and presenilin 2 genes. If somebody is diagnosed as having this mutation, there is a 50 percent chance of their children developing the disease.

The rest of patients (99%) do not have a clear single genetic mutation which would cause the disease, though several genes were identified which could increase the risk, but not guarantee, of developing the disease. This includes specific copy of a gene coding apolipoprotein E, and other, less common, gene variations.

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?

Addressing certain factorsin a timely manner might decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that controlling cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity diminishes the risk of developing the disease. Maintaining regular physical, cognitive and social activity has been shown to decrease the risk of developing the disease, and slow down the progression of the disease as well.  A mediterranean diet has also been demonstrated to have similar effect.

Can patients be evaluated at Capital Institute for Neurosciences for Alzheimer’s disease?

Capital Institute for Neurosciences (CIN) provides an array of services necessary for diagnosing and treating people with Alzheimer’s disease. This includes a team evaluation by experienced physicians and neuropsychologists. Social workers and genetic counselors are available if needed. 

The information provided on these educational pages is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. And, if experiencing a medical emergency call 9-1-1. 

Last updated 10/2013

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