Alzheimer's Disease, progressive brain disorder that causes a gradual and irreversible decline in memory, language skills, perception of time and space, and, eventually, the ability to care for oneself. First described by German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer in 1906, Alzheimer's disease was initially thought to be a rare condition affecting only young people, and was referred to as presenile dementia. Today late-onset Alzheimer's disease is recognised as the most common cause of the loss of mental function in those aged 65 and over. Alzheimer's in people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, called early-onset Alzheimer's disease, occurs much less frequently, accounting for less than 10 percent of the estimated 4 million Alzheimer's cases in the United States.
Although Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of the aging process, the risk of developing the disease increases, as people grow older. About 10 percent of the United States population over the age of 65 is affected by Alzheimer's disease, and nearly 50 percent of those over age 85 may have the disease.
Alzheimer's disease takes a devastating toll, not only on the patients, but also on those who love and care for them. Some patients experience immense fear and frustration as they struggle with once commonplace tasks and slowly lose their independence. Family, friends, and especially those who provide daily care suffer immeasurable pain and stress as they witness Alzheimer's disease slowly take their loved one from them.
The onset of Alzheimer's disease is usually very gradual. In the early stages, Alzheimer's patients have relatively mild problems learning new information and remembering where they have left common objects, such as keys or a wallet. In time, they begin to have trouble recollecting recent events and finding the right words to express themselves. As the disease progresses, patients may have difficulty remembering what day or month it is, or finding their way around familiar surroundings. They may develop a tendency to wander off and then be unable to find their way back. Patients often become irritable or withdrawn as they struggle with fear and frustration when once commonplace tasks become unfamiliar and intimidating. Behavioural changes may become more pronounced as patients become paranoid or delusional and unable to engage in normal conversation.
Eventually Alzheimer's patients become completely incapacitated and unable to take care of their most basic life functions, such as eating and using the bathroom. Alzheimer's patients may live many years with the disease, usually dying from other disorders that may develop, such as pneumonia. Typically the time from initial diagnosis until death is seven to ten years, but this is quite variable and can range from three to twenty years, depending on the age of onset, other medical conditions present, and the care patients receive.
The brains of patients with Alzheimer's have distinctive formations—abnormally shaped...