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Alzheimer's Disease

Table of Contents (click to jump to sections)

What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Is there any treatment?
What is the prognosis?
What research is being done?

Selected references
Related NINDS Publications

What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by memory loss, language deterioration, impaired visuospatial skills, poor judgment, indifferent attitude, but preserved motor function. AD usually begins after age 65, however, its onset may occur as early as age 40, appearing first as memory decline and, over several years, destroying cognition, personality, and ability to function. Confusion and restlessness may also occur. The type, severity, sequence, and progression of mental changes vary widely. The early symptoms of AD, which include forgetfulness and loss of concentration, can be missed easily because they resemble natural signs of aging. Similar symptoms can also result from fatigue, grief, depression, illness, vision or hearing loss, the use of alcohol or certain medications, or simply the burden of too many details to remember at once.

Is there any treatment?
There is no cure for AD and no way to slow the progression of the disease. For some people in the early or middle stages of the disease, medication such as donepezil may alleviate some cognitive symptoms. Also, some medications may help control behavioral symptoms such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression. These treatments are aimed at making the patient more comfortable.

What is the prognosis?
AD is a progressive disease. The course of the disease varies from person to person. Some people have the disease only for the last 5 years of life, while others may have it for as many as 20 years. The most common cause of death in AD patients is infection.

What research is being done?
The NINDS conducts and supports research on neurodegenerative and dementing disorders, including AD. The goals of this research are to improve the diagnosis of AD and to find ways to treat and prevent the disorder. The National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Mental Health also support research related to AD.

Selected references

Backman L, Ahlbom A, Winblad B.
Prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in an elderly urban population, relationship with age, sex and education Neurology 1991;41:1886-1892.

Mayeux R, Sano M.
Drug therapy: Treatment of Alzheimer's disease. New England Journal of Medicine 1999;341:1670-1679.

Levy-Lahad E, Bird TD.
Genetic factors in Alzheimer's disease: a review of recent advances. Annals of Neurology 1996;40:829-840.

Rogers SL, Farlow MR, Doody RS, Mohs R, Friedhoff LT and the Donepezil Study Group.
A 24-week, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of donepezil in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Neurology 1998;50:138-145.

Tang M-X, Stern Y, Marder K, et al.
APOE risks and the frequency of Alzheimer's disease among African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. Journal of the American Medical Association 1998;279:751-755.


ADEAR/Alzheimer's Disease Ed. & Referral Center

P.O. Box 8250
Silver Spring MD 20907-8250
Tel: 800-438-4380 301-495-3311
Fax: 301-495-3334

Alzheimer's Association

919 N. Michigan Avenue
Suite 1100
Chicago IL 60611-1676
Tel: 312-335-8700 800-272-3900
Fax: 312-335-1110

Family Caregiver Alliance

690 Market Street
Suite 600
San Francisco CA 94104
Tel: 415-434-3388 Calif: 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

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