Facts About Alzheimer's Disease
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, it is more common in people with DS than in the general population, and can occur earlier. For all people, the risk of having Alzheimer's disease increases significantly as the individual gets older.
Alzheimer's disease results in disorder of brain function. There are characteristic physical changes in the brain; there is a loss (atrophy) of brain tissue, with significant numbers of brain cells dying.
The great majority of individuals with DS over forty will have these changes in their brains, but by no means all of them will show any signs of dementia. The majority of people with DS will never have Alzheimer's disease.
For the minority who do, typical symptoms of early dementia are problems with memory such as forgetting recent events, mislaying objects, switching on switches and forgetting about them, and so on. There can also be changes in behaviour and personality, such as withdrawal and irritability. Some individuals developing Alzheimer's disease start to have fits or seizures.
As the illness progresses, conversational skills deteriorate. The individual may become less sociable, more apathetic and withdrawn. Difficulties will arise over tasks that were previously well managed, such as with dressing and toileting.
What causes Alzheimer's disease is not yet known, and as yet there is no cure. However, much can be done by caregivers, family and professionals to alleviate the symptoms and minimise distress.
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