What You Need to Know About Alzheimer's Disease

Curious about Alzheimer's disease? What you need to know about this debilitating condition should include information from the most recent studies. If you suspect that someone in your family may be exhibiting signs of the disease, your help will be more effective if you have all of the latest facts.

Alzheimer's is a form of dementia

Dementia is a common term used for the loss of memory, intellectual capacity and behavioral changes mostly in the elderly. According to the Alzheimer's Association, "Alzheimer's disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases." For most individuals, symptoms develop slowly and get progressively worse to the point where they are unable to perform simple daily tasks.

Developing Alzheimer's is not normal

Getting older might be the strongest risk factor, as reflected in the fact that most people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease are older than 65. One of the frustrating aspects of this disease is that it doesn't discriminate against people younger than 65 either. It's believed that perhaps five percent of people with Alzheimer's have what is called younger- or early-onset symptoms that can begin to appear when individuals are in their 40s and 50s.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's

Because Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, dementia symptoms manifest slowly. It's estimated that when symptoms become obvious, individuals will live approximately eight years on average. That average changes depending upon the age of the individual and whether he has other health problems. These factors put survival rates between four and 20 years.

Current Alzheimer's treatments

While there may be no cure for Alzheimer's, drug and non-drug treatments help slow down the progression of the disease. Every day, researchers are seeking new treatments that they hope will change the course of this disease and improve the quality of life for dementia sufferers. Current treatments include the following:

  • Drugs for early to moderate memory loss. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept, Cognex, Exelon and Razadyne. These medications are used to treat early to moderate memory loss, reasoning and confusion problems symptomatic in Alzheimer's patients.
  • Drugs for moderate to severe symptoms. Memantine, sold under the name Namenda, is approved by the FDA and is prescribed by doctors to improve memory, attention and language skills to help patients once again perform simple tasks. While this drug can be prescribed by itself, evidence shows that patients in the moderate-to-severe category benefit by combining both a cholinesterase inhibitor and memantine.
  • Nondrug treatments. Physicians often prescribe taking antioxidant-rich vitamin E as another way to aid Alzheimer's cognitive symptoms. Vitamin E is believed to protect brain cells from certain types of chemical stress, as was shown by a 1997 study performed by the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS). Use of vitamin E supplements should be monitored carefully by a physician, because high doses can be dangerous for people with coronary artery disease.

Science is targeting Alzheimer's disease in a worldwide effort to find improved ways to treat the disease, inhibit its progression and understand why it develops in some individuals and not others.

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