Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disorder that impairs proper thinking and memory function. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 50 to 80 percent of all cases. “Dementia” is a significant loss of intellectual abilities (i.e. memory) severe enough to interfere with daily social or occupational functioning.
Who is Affected by Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5 percent of people between 65 and 74 years of age and about half of the population age 85 and up. Women are about twice as likely as men to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the 2009 World Alzheimer Report released by Alzheimer’s Disease International, approximately 35.6 million people worldwide have dementia. These figures are expected to double every 20 years due to the aging of the population worldwide.
Just as there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there is no known cause. The disease does not appear to be related to any single causal factor. Certain types of neuron damage are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but here again, the cause remains a mystery.
Factors that appear to influence the development of Alzheimer’s symptoms include:
- Genetic factors
- Head trauma
- Other medical disorders.
Scientists are currently researching potential environmental causes of Alzheimer’s, though no conclusive evidence has linked environmental factors with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are complex and may vary between both individuals and different stages of the disorder. Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s symptoms can be categorized according to:
- Behavioral changes
- Communication impairment
- Impairment of thought processes (i.e. decision-making, judgment and reason)
- Memory impairment.
The purpose of treatment for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease is to slow the downward progression of mental decline. For those in the later stages of the disease, treatment is intended to address Alzheimer’s symptoms (i.e. behavioral changes) and improve the patient’s overall quality of life.
Although pharmaceutical drugs are by far the most common treatment option, a variety of other treatments can also prove beneficial. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Antioxidant treatment
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Herbal remedies
- Hormone therapy
- Natural treatments to improve physical and mental health
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Therapeutic activities.
Some of these treatments are newly emerging therapies that are still undergoing tests to determine their effectiveness.
Available Help for Those with Alzheimer’s Disease
Because Alzheimer’s disease is so prevalent, there are countless organizations dedicated to assisting individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones. These organizations offer education, health and support services to both Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families.
Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.) What is Alzheimer’s? Retrieved on April 23, 2010, from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp.
Alzheimer’s Disease International. (2009). World Alzheimer report 2009 â€“ executive summary. Retrieved on April 23, 2010, from http://www.alz.co.uk/research/files/WorldAlzheimerReport-ExecutiveSummary.pdf.
Alzheimer Society of Canada. (n.d.) What is Alzheimer’s disease? Retrieved on April 23, 2010, from http://www.alzheimer.ca/english/disease/whatisit-intro.htm.
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Definition. Retrieved on April 23, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/DS00161.