Alzheimer disease, senile dementia of the Alzheimer type, primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, or simply Alzheimer’s, is the most common form of dementia.
This incurable, degenerative, and terminal disease was first described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 and was named after him. Most often it is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In 2006, there were 26.6 million sufferers worldwide and Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 persons globally by 2050.
Although the course of Alzheimer’s disease is unique for every individual, there are many common symptoms.The earliest observable symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be ‘age-related’ concerns, or manifestations of stress. In the early stages, the most commonly recognized symptom is inability to acquire new memories, such as difficulty in recalling recently observed facts. When AD is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with behavioural assessments and cognitive tests, often followed by a brain scan if available.
As the disease advances, symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general withdrawal of the sufferer as their senses decline. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death. Individual prognosis is difficult to assess, as the duration of the disease varies. AD develops for an indeterminate period of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can easily progress undiagnosed for years. The mean life expectancy following diagnosis is approximately seven years with fewer than three percent of the individuals living more than fourteen years after diagnosis.
The cause and progression of Alzheimer’s disease are not well understood. Research indicates that the disease is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. Currently used treatments offer a small symptomatic benefit; no treatments to delay or halt the progression of the disease are, as of yet, available. As of 2008, more than 500 clinical trials have been conducted for identification of a possible treatment for AD, but it is unknown if any of the tested intervention strategies will show promising results.
A number of non-invasive, life-style habits have been suggested for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, but there is a lack of adequate evidence for a link between these recommendations and reduced degeneration. Mental stimulation, exercise, and a balanced diet are suggested, as both a possible prevention and a sensible way of managing the disease.
Because AD cannot be cured and is degenerative, management of patients is essential. The role of the main caregiver is often assumed by the spouse or a close relative. Alzheimer’s disease is known for placing a great burden on caregivers; the pressures can be wide-ranging, involving social, psychological, physical, and economic elements of the caregiver’s life. In developed countries, AD is one of the most costly diseases to society.