Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer's progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, and suspiciousness or, as well as delusions or hallucinations.
Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, new treatments are on the way. Research has also shown that effective care and support can improve quality of life for individuals over the course of the disease from diagnosis to the end of life.
Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia, a group of conditions that all gradually destroy brain cells and lead to progressive decline in mental function. Vascular dementia, another common form, results from reduced blood flow to the brain's nerve cells. In some cases, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia can occur together in a condition called "mixed dementia.
Alzheimer's disease advances at widely different rates. The extent of the illness may be from 3 to 20 years. The areas of the brain that control memory and thinking skills are affected first, but as the disease progresses, cells die in other regions of the brain. Eventually, the person with Alzheimer's will need complete care. If the individual has no other serious illness, the loss of brain function itself will cause death.
Scientists believe that whatever triggers Alzheimer's disease begins to damage the brain years before symptoms appear. When symptoms emerge, nerve cells that process, store and retrieve information have already begun to collapse and die. Amyloidal plaques are clumps of protein that build up outside the brain's nerve cells. Tangles are twisted strands of another protein that form inside cells. Scientists do not yet know whether plaques or tangles cause Alzheimer's.
The greatest known risk...