Alzheimer's Disease (pronounced Altz-hi-merz ) is a progressive, degenerative disease that affects the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour.

The name derives from a German doctor, Alois Alzheimer who first described the disease in 1907. At that time, it was considered a rare disorder, but today the disease is recognised as the most common form of dementia.

The word 'dementia' is used widely to describe a group of diseases which affect the brain leading to defects in a persons abilities in judgement, orientation, emotions, memory and thinking.

Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease are older than age 65; however, the disease can occur in people in their 40s and 50s.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease has a gradual onset. Early symptoms can include problems remembering recent events, and difficulty performing familiar tasks or learning new ones.

Other symptoms can include confusion, language problems (such as trouble finding words), poor or decreased judgement, disorientation in place and time and changes in behaviour or personality.

How quickly these changes occur in a person with Alzheimer's Disease will vary from person to person. As the disease progresses, it can deprive the person of the ability to keep a job, drive a car, maintain a cheque account or cook a meal.

People affected by Alzheimer's Disease may not attend to their personal hygiene, care for themselves or recognise family members and friends. Eventually, the disease leaves its sufferers totally unable to care for themselves.

What causes Alzheimer's Disease?

The causes of Alzheimer's disease are not entirely known and are currently under scientific investigation. Suspected causes include risk genes, abnormal protein deposits in the brain, and other risk and environmental factors.

How is Alzheimer's Disease diagnosed?

At this time, there is no single diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease. A complete physical, psychiatric and neurological evaluation by a doctor experienced in diagnosing dementing disorders should be obtained when symptoms are noticed. However, the only way to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is through autopsy at the time of death.

Is Alzheimer's Disease fatal?

From the onset of symptoms, the life span of a person with Alzheimer's can range anywhere from 3 to 20 or more years. Unfortunately, it is always fatal. Alzheimer's disease eventually leaves the patient less resistant to infections and other illnesses, which are often the ultimate cause of death.

Can Alzheimer's Disease be treated?

At this time there is no treatment available to stop or reverse the mental deterioration of Alzheimer's disease. However, medications are available to assist in managing some of the most troubling symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Under a doctor's supervision, medication can be used to control depression, behavioural disturbance and sleeplessness. Physical exercise and social activity are important, as are proper nutrition and health maintenance. A calm and well-structured environment will help the affected person maintain as much comfort and dignity as possible.

Is there help for people affected by Alzheimer's Disease?

To cope with Alzheimer's Disease, families have to prepare themselves for a lot of changes. These changes do not have to be dealt with alone.

There are a wide range of services available to assist people with Alzheimer's Disease, their families and caregivers.


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