Alzheimer’s disease (pronounced AHLZ-hi-merz) is one of several disorders that cause the gradual deterioration of brain cells. The disease is named for Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician who first described the disease in 1906.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
a gradual loss of memory
problems with learning, reasoning or judgment
loss of language skills
a decline in the ability to perform routine tasks.
People with Alzheimer’s disease may also experience changes in their personalities and exhibit behavioral problems such as agitation, anxiety and delusions.
The progression of Alzheimer’s disease varies significantly and can be difficult to predict. The area of the brain that controls memory and thinking skills is affected first, but as the
disease advances, other regions of the brain and the functions they control may also be affected.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately four million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Aging is the major risk factor for the disease, which strikes men
and women in almost equal numbers and affects almost 50 percent of all people 85 and older. A family history of Alzheimer’s disease also increases one’s risk.
The most commonly prescribed medications for Alzheimer’s disease are a class of drugs known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. These medications are designed to prevent the
breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain that is important for memory and reasoning. Some Alzheimer’s patients who take acetylcholinesterase inhibitors experience a modest but temporary improvement in cognitive functioning. However, Alzheimer’s disease is not yet curable and available treatment neither halts nor reverses
the progression of the illness.