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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and many of us know someone who has succumbed to this illness. November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month, and a good reason to learn more about this devastating disease that affects more Americans every year.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. It causes the loss of brain functions such as memory, thinking, and behavior. It's a slow moving disease, which means that microscopic changes begin to happen in the brain long before the appearance of any symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain by damaging and killing nerve cells, beginning in areas of the brain that control language and memory, and progressively spreads to other areas. This process is irreversible; Alzheimer's disease cannot be cured.

Doctors still do not know what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but research has shown that there are some factors that can make you more likely to develop it, including:

  • Being older in age
  • Being female
  • Having a close relative who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease
  • Having certain genes linked to Alzheimer's disease
  • Having high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure
  • Having a history of head trauma

Although forgetfulness and memory loss are primary symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, there are many other symptoms that are strong indicators of the disease. The warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Language problems (having trouble finding the name of familiar objects)
  • Emotional and personality changes (confusion, depression or loss of social skills)
  • Perception problems (having trouble reading or figuring out distances)
  • Impaired thinking and judgment
  • Difficulty performing tasks that once came easily
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Frequently misplacing items
  • Losing interest in things once enjoyed

As the disease progresses, symptoms worsen and can make everyday tasks difficult (eating, bathing, dressing, etc.). It also begins to affect the body's basic functions like sleeping, bladder and bowel control, and swallowing.

Only a doctor can diagnose Alzheimer's disease and administer an appropriate treatment plan. Although it cannot be cured, treatment seeks to slow the progression of the symptoms by taking medication that can help control behavior, judgment, and confusion. Treatment also involves environmental changes designed to make daily tasks easier.

Although there are no proven prevention methods for Alzheimer's disease, certain lifestyle choices may help prevent or slow the onset of the disease. These include:

  • Having a healthy, low-fat diet that includes unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Exercising and staying mentally and socially active.

Learn more about this disease and others from A.D.A.M.'s responsive Wellness Tools located within our SmartEngage product. If you have more questions, Ask A Doctor. If you are interested in licensing our content, please contact us.

If you would like to know more about this Health Tip, Ask A Doctor

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