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What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of severe mental deterioration (dementia) in the elderly. It has been estimated that 30% to 50% of people over 85 years old suffer from this condition. The cause of Alzheimer's is largely not known but many theories have been and continue to be investigated.

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic, slowly progressive, gradual in onset, irreversible condition that destroys brain nerve cells and other structures in the central nervous system. People with Alzheimer’s disease slowly develop dementia —a loss of memory and intellectual and social skills that result in confusion, disorientation, and the inability to think, reason, and understand. The decline in cognition and memory results in activities of daily living to performed with increasing...

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop Alzheimer’s disease with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

There are still many questions regarding the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, so risk factors are still being identified. Currently, risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:


Age is the most important known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years beyond age 65 until age 85, when almost 50% of all people have the disease.


Alzheimer’s disease affects both men and women, but women may have a...

Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly, and changes take place gradually over time. People can live with Alzheimer’s disease for 3-25 years, although the average duration of the disease is about 8-10 years. In general, changes can be characterized in three phases.

Early Phase

Subtle changes occur, but the problem is sometimes hard to pinpoint. More often, family members recognize these changes rather than the patients themselves. Common changes may include:

  • Forgetfulness and attempts to hide frequent forgetting
  • Misplacing things
  • Getting lost while driving
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to recall words
  • Decrease in sentence complexity
  • Problems with mathematical calculations
  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings *...

Diagnostic Tests

There are no laboratory tests to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. However, your doctor will be able do a thorough clinical evaluation and conduct tests that will provide a diagnosis with a relatively high accuracy rate, and other potential conditions will be ruled out.

Initially, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Tests to rule out other conditions may include:

Blood and Urine Tests

This may be done to rule out other causes of dementia. These tests may include:

  • Electrolytes (eg, sodium, potassium, and calcium)
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Levels vitamins (including B vitamins)
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rare (ESR)
  • Lyme disease test
  • HIV test *...

Because the causes are unknown, there are currently no guidelines for reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease . Scientists are studying medicines and lifestyle factors (eg, diet, mental activity, exercise, stress reduction) that may help ward off the condition. Control of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes may also help to reduce your risk. Other studies have found that drinking alcohol in moderation (one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men) may be beneficial, as well. In addition, some researchers have argued that long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lower the risk.

Earlier studies indicated that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women decreased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, recent...

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Service (ADEAR)


PO Box 8250
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8250



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

This site is part of the National Institute on Aging. It provides information and referral service, news and research information, publications, multimedia, and links to other resources.

Alzheimer’s Association


Alzheimer’s Association
225 N Michigan Ave, Fl 17
Chicago, IL 60601-7633



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

This association is a network of national chapters. The organization funds...

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