Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking, and behavior. It is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer because he discovered abnormalities in the brain of a 50 year old woman he had been observing. Her symptoms had included memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After she died, he examined her brain and noted distinctive plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Dr. Alzheimer called it "a peculiar, severe disease process of the cerebral cortex".
These plaques and tangles in the brain are still considered the predominant markers of Alzheimer’s disease. Another notable characteristic is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Neurons transmit messages between different parts of the brain to the rest of the body. These initial changes and resulting damage takes place in areas of the brain involved in memory, resulting in the early symptoms most people associate with the disease, including difficulty remembering, poor judgment, repeating questions, wandering or getting lost, or losing or misplacing items in odd places.
As the disease progresses it begins to affect areas in the cerebral cortex, resulting in the change of language, reasoning, and social behavior. Eventually, many other areas of the brain are damaged. This tends to be when caregivers notice additional symptoms like excessive worrying or aggression.
Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease the early stages of memory loss are mild, but in time individuals lose the ability to carry a conversation, respond to their environment, complete simple tasks, and are no longer able to meet their own personal needs. On average, once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s they will live between 4 to 8 years, but could continue to live for as long as 20 years. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases in the United States.
Recent research has shown that people with Type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. The correlation between Type 2 diabetes and the brain’s inability to respond to insulin, negatively impacting memory and learning, has led researchers to call Alzheimer’s Type 3 diabetes.
• 1-in-9 Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease.
• One-third of Americans over age 85 are afflicted with the illness.
• Caring for a victim of Alzheimer's Disease at home can cost a family up to $22,000 per year.
• In 2014, more than 15 million Americans provided more than 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
• In 2014, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs of their own.
• People with Alzheimer’s disease are hospitalized three times more often than seniors without Alzheimer’s.