Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. Alzheimer's disease (AD), is one form of dementia that gradually gets worse over time. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors
You are more likely to get Alzheimer's disease (AD) if you:
Are older. However, developing AD is not a part of normal aging.
Have a close blood relative, such as a brother, sister, or parent with AD.
Have certain genes linked to AD, such as APOE epsilon4 allele
The following may also increase your risk, although this is not well proven:
Being female
Having high blood pressure for a long time
History of head trauma
There are two types of AD:
Early onset AD: Symptoms appear before age 60. This type is much less common than late onset. However, it tends to get worse quickly. Early onset disease can run in families. Several genes have been identified.
Late onset AD: This is the most common type. It occurs in people age 60 and older. It may run in some families, but the role of genes is less clear.
The cause of AD is not clear. Your genes and environmental factors seem to play a role. Aluminum, lead, and mercury in the brain is no longer believed to be a cause of AD.
Dementia symptoms include difficulty with many areas of mental function, including:
Emotional behavior or personality
Thinking and judgment (cognitive skills)
Dementia usually first appears as forgetfulness.
Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging, and the development of AD. People with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with everyday activities. They are often aware of the forgetfulness. Not everyone with MCI develops AD.
Symptoms of MCI include:
Difficulty performing more than one task at a time
Difficulty solving problems
Forgetting recent events or conversations
Taking longer to perform more difficult activities
The early symptoms of AD can include:
Difficulty performing tasks that take some thought, but used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing complex games (such as bridge), and learning new information or routines
Getting lost on familiar routes
Language problems, such as trouble finding the name of familiar objects
Losing interest in things previously enjoyed, flat mood
Misplacing items
Personality changes and loss of social skills
As the AD becomes worse, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with your ability to take care of yourself. Symptoms can include:
Change in sleep patterns, often waking up at night
Delusions, depression, agitation
Difficulty doing basic tasks, such as preparing meals, choosing proper clothing, and driving
Difficulty reading or writing
Forgetting details about current events
Forgetting events in your own life history, losing awareness of who you are
Hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and violent behavior
Poor judgment and loss of ability to recognize danger
Using the wrong word, mispronouncing words, speaking in confusing sentences
Withdrawing from social contact
People with severe AD can no longer:
Understand language
Recognize family members
Perform basic activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, and bathing
Other symptoms that may occur with AD:
Swallowing problems
Signs and tests
A skilled health care provider can often diagnose AD disease with the following steps:
Complete physical exam, including neurological exam
Asking questions about your medical history and symptoms
A mental status examination
A diagnosis of AD is made when certain symptoms are present, and by making sure other causes of dementia are not present.
Tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of dementia, including:
Brain tumor
Chronic infection
Intoxication from medication
Severe depression
Thyroid disease
Vitamin deficiency
Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain may be done to look for other causes of dementia, such as a brain tumor or stroke.
In the early stages of dementia, brain image scans may be normal. In later stages, an MRI may show a decrease in the size of different areas of the brain.
While the scans do not confirm the diagnosis of AD, they do exclude other causes of dementia (such as stroke and tumor).
However, the only way to know for certain that someone has AD is to examine a sample of their brain tissue after death. The following changes are more common in the brain tissue of people with AD:
"Neurofibrillary tangles" (twisted fragments of protein within nerve cells that clog up the cell)
"Neuritic plaques" (abnormal clusters of dead and dying nerve cells, other brain cells, and protein)
"Senile plaques" (areas where products of dying nerve cells have accumulated around protein).
There is no cure for AD.
Abuse by an over-stressed caregiver
Loss of muscle function that makes you unable to move your joints
Infection, such as urinary tract infection and pneumonia
Other complications related to immobility
Falls and broken bones
Harmful or violent behavior toward self or others
Loss of ability to function or care for self
Loss of ability to interact
Malnutrition and dehydration
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if someone close to you has symptoms of dementia.
Call your health care provider if a person with AD has sudden change in mental status. A rapid change may be a sign of another illness.
Talk to your health care provider if you are caring for a person with AD and you can no longer care for the person in your home.
Although there is no proven way to prevent AD, there are some practices that may be worth incorporating into your daily routine, particularly if you have a family history of dementia. Talk to your doctor about any of these approaches, especially those that involve taking a medication or supplement.
Consume a low-fat diet.
Eat cold-water fish (like tuna, salmon, and mackerel) rich in omega-3 fatty acids, at least 2 to 3 times per week.
Reduce your intake of linoleic acid found in margarine, butter, and dairy products.
Increase antioxidants like carotenoids, vitamin E, and vitamin C by eating plenty of darkly colored fruits and vegetables.
Maintain a normal blood pressure.
Stay mentally and socially active throughout your life.
Consider taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), sulindac (Clinoril), or indomethacin (Indocin). Statin drugs, a class of medications normally used for high cholesterol, may help lower your risk of AD. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of using these medications


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