What is Alzheimer's disease?

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Alzheimer’s disease is marked by a progressive degeneration of brain tissue, causing dementia. Eventually, people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease lose the ability to think, reason and co-ordinate movement, becoming incapacitated over the course of five to eight years. 

Summary

• Alzheimer’s disease entails the eventual loss of memory and the ability to think and do.
• It is the most common form of dementia in older adults and marked by a progressive degeneration of brain tissue.
• The progress of the disease is initially slow and may be mistaken for the normal ageing process.
• There is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
• The goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms.

Description

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, and is the fourth leading cause of death in the USA after heart disease, cancer and stroke.  

This incurable brain disease was named after the German physician Alois Alzheimer, who identified it in 1907. 

The disease is characterised by a progressive degeneration of brain tissue. It primarily affects people over the age of 65 and in such cases, it is known as late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The disease has also been reported among people in their 50s, 40s. It is rarely diagnosed in people in their thirties and is called early-onset Alzheimer’s. Nearly all people with Down syndrome will develop this disease if they live into their 40s.

Updated and reviewed by Dr Michael S. Mason, MB ChB, FC Psych (South Africa), Consultant Psychiatrist in private practice, Panorama Psychiatry and Memory Clinic, Cape Town March 2015. 

Previously reviewed by Dr Frans Hugo, MBChB, M.Med Psychiatry

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