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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Alzheimer's Disease - Topic Overview

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Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of mental decline, or dementia. But dementia also has many other causes. For more information, see the topic Dementia.

Alzheimer's disease damages the brain camera.gif. It causes a steady loss of memory and of how well you can speak, think, and do your daily activities.

Alzheimer's disease gets worse over time, but how quickly this happens varies. Some people lose the ability to do daily activities in the first few years. Others may do fairly well until much later in the disease.

Mild memory loss is common in people older than 60. It may not mean that you have Alzheimer's disease. But if your memory is getting worse, see your doctor. If it is Alzheimer's, treatment may help.

Alzheimer's disease happens because of changes in the brain. Some of the deterioration may be related to a loss of chemical messengers in the brain, called neurotransmitters, that allow nerve cells in the brain to communicate properly.

People with Alzheimer's disease have two things in the brain that are not normal: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Experts don't know if amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are side effects of Alzheimer's disease or part of the cause. These plaques and tangles are not found in people who do not have the disease.

For most people, the first symptom of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. Often the person who has a memory problem doesn't notice it, but family and friends do. But the person with the disease may also know that something is wrong.

The symptoms of Alzheimer's get worse slowly over time. You may:

  • Have trouble making decisions.
  • Be confused about what time and day it is.
  • Get lost in places you know well.
  • Have trouble learning and remembering new information.
  • Have trouble finding the right words to say what you want to say.
  • Have more trouble doing daily tasks like cooking a meal or paying bills.

A person who gets these symptoms over a few hours or days or whose symptoms suddenly get worse needs to see a doctor right away, because there may be another problem.

Your doctor will ask about your past health and do a physical exam. He or she may ask you to do some simple things that test your memory and other mental skills. Your doctor may also check how well you can do daily tasks.

The exam usually includes blood tests to look for another cause of your problems. You may have tests such as CT scans and MRI scans, which look at your brain. By themselves, these tests can't show for sure whether you have Alzheimer's.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 29, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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