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
brain . 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.
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
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
- 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
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
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.