Diana Apetauerova, MD, is board-certified in neurology with a subspecialty in movement disorders. She is an associate clinical professor of neurology at Tufts School of Medicine.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disease that ultimately results in the brain's inability to function correctly.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's include problems with memory, communication, comprehension, and judgment. Changes in personality may also occur. As the disease progresses, the ability to function mentally, socially, and physically continues to decline.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia and is typically seen in older adults. There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed through the use of behavioral strategies and medication.
The exact cause of Alzheimer's disease hasn't been identified. The current thinking is that it develops due to a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental risk factors.1
The brains of people with Alzheimer’s often show a build-up of proteins, known as plaques and tangles. Over time, these proteins can lead brain tissue to atrophy (shrink).
Dementia is a general term that covers many types of cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; other types include vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. Symptoms vary among the types, but generally include memory loss, poor judgment, communication difficulties, and personality changes.
Alzheimer’s disease is considered a complex “multifactorial” disorder, meaning it is caused by environmental circumstances combined with genetic factors. Recent research has identified several gene mutations that are linked with both late-onset and early-onset forms of the disease.
A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s cannot be made until a brain autopsy after death. However, there are numerous tests that can be done at home or by a doctor that measure cognitive impairment and other factors that suggest Alzheimer’s, leading to a probable diagnosis.
There is no known way to prevent Alzheimer’s, since its causes are thought to be due to a variety of factors, including genetic and environmental factors. However, remaining intellectually and socially engaged throughout your life may contribute to brain health. Leading a healthy lifestyle by exercising and maintaining a healthy weight is good for overall health, including brain health.
There is no cure yet for Alzheimer's disease, though there are strategies and medications that can keep symptoms under control. Meanwhile, research continues to reveal more about how Alzheimer's affects the brain, which may ultimately lead to the development of a cure.
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with many manifestations. Symptoms increase in severity as it progresses through three main stages—early-, mid-, and late-stage disease. The cause of death in someone with Alzheimer’s is often related to a physical complication, such as aspiration pneumonia due to a decline in the ability to swallow.
The ten most common signs of Alzheimer’s include: memory changes; withdrawal from usual activities; disorientation to time and place; visual-spatial difficulties; decrease in written or verbal communication ability; challenges in problem-solving and planning; personality and mood changes; misplacing items frequently; decline in judgment; and difficulty performing familiar tasks. These signs often become more severe as the disease progresses.
A term indicating that someone has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Cognitive impairment ranges from mild to severe, and is what characterizes Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, the level of impairment becomes increasingly severe in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The largest portion of the brain. The cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes—the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe, and temporal lobe. Each lobe is associated with different functions, including higher thought, language, and human consciousness as well as the ability to think, reason, and imagine.
A small, curved formation in the brain, the hippocampus is involved in the formation of new memories and is also associated with learning and emotions. Degeneration in the cells of the hippocampus has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
A decline in the ability to remember. There are four types of memory. Short-term memory refers to remembering things that happened very recently, while long-term memory refers to things that happened in the past. Working memory assists with organization and planning; sensory memory is registering something you just saw or heard. In Alzheimer’s, all four forms of memory are compromised over time.
Specialized cells that send messages between different parts of the brain, and from the brain to the muscles and organs of the body. In Alzheimer’s disease, many neurons stop functioning and die, affecting the cells’ abilities to carry out their function in communication, metabolism, and repair.
Anand KS, Dhikav V. Hippocampus in health and disease: An overview. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2012
CDC. Cognitive Impairment: A Call for Action, Now!
National Institute on Aging. What Happens to the Brain in Alzheimer’s Disease?
Povova J, Ambroz P, Bar M, et al. Epidemiological of and risk factors for Alzheimer's disease: a review. Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2012;156(2):108-14.