Alzheimer’s Disease: Overview and Risk Factors
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States, affecting about 5 million Americans.
Its causes have not been fully elucidated. However, it is known that affected patients accumulate abnormal deposits in their brains, called beta amyloid plaques, as well as disorganized protein fibers, called neurofibrillary tangles. Alzheimer’s disease is also associated with the death of certain brain cells that normally produce a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, and the main part of the brain–the cerebral cortex–diminishes in size.
Early stages of the disease can be mild, and may not appear any different from the typical signs of aging. However, advanced disease is generally associated with severe memory loss and changes in mental abilities, personality, and behavior. The affected person may show confusion, difficulty with language, and difficulty concentrating, and may even experience hallucinations.
Although Alzheimer’s disease does not directly cause death, life expectancy after diagnosis is decreased by as much as 50 percent. Patients often die from infections, such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections.
Older persons, women, and African–Americans tend to develop Alzheimer’s at higher rates. Evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the following:
Other factors that may be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease include a history of depression and a history of severe head injury.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment >>