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Everyone forgets things at times. Many people worry about becoming forgetful. They think forgetfulness is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But not all people with memory problems have Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to waste away (degenerate) and die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently. Memory loss is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. An early sign of the disease is usually difficulty remembering recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, memory impairments worsen and other symptoms develop.
According to Harvard Medical College’s case study of an Alzheimer patient, a 37 years old woman was brought to neurological evaluation by her brother because of a 3 years history of memory impairment. Her speech was highly anomic and paraphasic, with a tendency to use vague referents such as “things” and “stuff”. She was able to provide her name, but when asked about her current age, she said: “don’t know… about 8 I think”. She was able to give the correct month of her birth but unable to give her correct birth year.
Recent research suggests that the features of Alzheimer’s, such as brain lesions, may already be present in midlife, even though symptoms of the disease do not appear until years later.
Scientists believe that for most people, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. Less than 1 percent of the time, Alzheimer’s is caused by specific genetic changes that virtually guarantee a person will develop the disease.
Although Alzheimer’s disease shortens people’s life spans, it is usually not the direct cause of a person’s death, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, a charity in the United Kingdom for people with dementia. Rather, people die from complications from the illness, such as infections or blood clots. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a way to stop or slow its progression, there are drug and non-drug options that may help treat symptoms. Understanding available options can help individuals living with the disease and their caregivers to cope with symptoms and improve quality of life.

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