Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia. It leads to problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It starts slowly and gets worse over time. Alzheimer dementia is when the disease makes it hard for people to take care of themselves.
Areas of the Brain Affected by Alzheimer Disease
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The exact cause is not known. Genetics may play a role.
It is more common in people who are 65 and older. It is also more common in people who have other families members who have it. Other things that may raise the risk are:
Lifestyle habits that may raise the risk are:
Symptoms start slowly and get worse over time. They may be:
- Memory loss
- Losing items
- Problems planning or solving problems
- Problems making decisions
- Problems doing day-to-day tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Problems with images and spatial skills
- Problems speaking and writing
- Problems sleeping
- Withdrawal from others
- Personality changes
- Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
- Believing things that are not based in reality
There are no tests to confirm the disease. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. A cognitive exam will also be done. Blood tests will be done to rule out problems.
Images may be taken of the brain. This can be done with:
Some people may need more testing based on their symptoms.
There is no cure. The goal of most care is support and safety. Care facilities can help to ease stress on caretakers. Day programs or home care offer support while the person lives at home. A full-time care facility may be needed if home is no longer safe or healthy place for them and others. Someone with later stage dementia can need around the clock care. They can wander at any points of the day, get lost, or get into danger. Changes in emotional control and anxiety may also be hard to manage at home. Some facilities specialize in care for people with dementia. Other treatment steps may include:
Some medicine may help to slow the disease. Current medicine includes:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors to treat changes in thinking
- N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist to improve memory
Other treatments may help to manage the effect of Alzheimers for a time. These may be:
- Cognitive training to engage thinking
- Occupational therapy to improve function
Healthy habits may lower the risk of Alzheimer disease in some people. This means:
- Eating a healthful diet
- Not smoking
- Staying mentally active
- Limiting alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men
- Staying at a healthy weight
- Managing chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure
Alzheimer dementia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alzheimer-dementia. Accessed October 18, 2020.
Atri A. The Alzheimer's Disease Clinical Spectrum: Diagnosis and Management. Med Clin North Am. 2019 Mar;103(2):263-293.
Treatment of Alzheimer's disease. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-medications-fact-sheet. Accessed October 18, 2020.
9/3/2014 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114193/Alzheimer-dementia: Wippold FJ, Brown DC, et al. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria for dementia and movement disorders. Available at: http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/DementiaAndMovementDisorders.pdf. Updated 2014. Accessed September 3, 2014.
10/17/2016 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114193/Alzheimer-dementia: Arvanitakis Z, Capuano AW, et al. Relation of cerebral vessel disease to Alzheimer's disease dementia and cognitive function in elderly people: a cross-sectional study. Lancet Neurol. 2016 Aug;15(9):934-943.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 10/11/2020