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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Alzheimer's Disease - What Happens

Researchers have discovered changes that take place in the brains of people who have Alzheimer's disease. These brain changes may cause the memory loss and decline in other mental abilities that occur with Alzheimer's disease. It's not fully understood why these brain changes occur in some people but not in others.

Alzheimer's disease gets worse over time, but the course of the disease varies from person to person. Some people may still be able to function relatively well until late in the course of the disease. Others may lose the ability to do everyday activities very early on.

Recommended Related to Alzheimer's

Sundowning

Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, affects some people who have Alzheimer's disease and dementia. People with dementia who "sundown" get confused and agitated as the sun goes down -- and sometimes through the night. Sundowning may prevent people with dementia from sleeping well. It may also make them more likely to wander. Due to the stress it puts on caregivers, sundowning is a common cause of caregiver burnout.

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  • The disease tends to get worse gradually. It usually starts with mild memory loss. It progresses to severe mental and functional problems and eventual death.
  • Symptoms sometimes are described as occurring in early, middle, and late phases. It's hard to predict how long each phase will last.
  • The average amount of time a person lives after developing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is 8 to 10 years.

A person with severe dementia becomes more vulnerable to other illnesses, such as pneumonia.

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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