Key Points about Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia in older adults.
  • Memory loss and decrease of function in everyday life is not a normal part of the aging process.
  • Treatment for Alzheimer’s generally involves a combination of medication and lifestyle modifications.
Common related conditions
Dementia Parkinson's Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative condition that causes brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, which is a decline in thinking and social skills. Dementia is also known as senile dementia. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are medicines that may help slow the progression.

Alzheimer’s disease causes 

Though the exact cause isn’t fully understood, experts believe that a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over the course of the lifetime cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease risk factors

You may be at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease if you:

  • Are age 65 or older
  • Are female
  • Did not graduate from high school
  • Have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s
  • Have Down syndrome
  • Have poor sleep patterns
  • Have suffered head trauma or injury

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms

The primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is problems with memory, though this can lead to a number of other signs. 

Symptoms related to memory
Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s that are related to a decline in memory and cognitive (brain) function can include:

  • Engaging in unexpectedly risky behavior around the home, such as leaving a stove burner or oven on
  • Forgetting conversations, appointments or events
  • Forgetting the names of everyday objects and family members (advanced stages)
  • Getting lost in familiar locations
  • Having trouble remembering words and, therefore, difficulty engaging in everyday conversation
  • Losing track of personal finances, such as not balancing their checkbook or paying bills on time
  • Misplacing personal items, which are often found later in an illogical location
  • Repeating questions and statements several times
  • Wearing clothing that is inappropriate to the situation or weather

Symptoms related to changes in personality and behavior
Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s that are related to changes in the individual’s personality and behavior may include:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Apathy (disinterest or disengagement from everyday life and loved ones)
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Delusions, such as believing someone has stolen from them
  • Depression
  • Distrust in others
  • Irritability
  • Loss of inhibitions (ability to control urges)
  • Mood swings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Wandering

Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis

Your neurologist may use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease:

Physical examination. Your neurologist will perform a comprehensive physical exam, including asking questions about your personal and family health histories. Your specialist may also ask your spouse, adult children or other caregivers questions related to your Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Memory and thinking tests. Your specialist may use these to check your memory and thinking skills.

Blood tests. Your neurologist may use blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause memory loss, such as a thyroid disorder or certain vitamin deficiencies.

Imaging tests. Your neurologist may order an imaging test – such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease treatment

Treatment for Alzheimer’s usually involves a combination of the following:

Medications. Your specialist may prescribe medication – such as cholinesterase inhibitors or memantine – to help manage cognitive symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, antidepressants can be used to help control the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Lifestyle modifications. In many cases, the best thing loved ones can do for a person with Alzheimer’s is to make modifications in the home environment to lessen the chances of daily struggling related to Alzheimer’s. Creating structure and daily and weekly routines can help those with Alzheimer’s function more normally. 

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a neurologist for more specialized treatment.