Alzheimer's is a disease which causes changes in the brain. It's a condition in which the nerve cells in the brain die, making it difficult for the brain's signals to be transmitted properly. The death of the nerve cells occurs gradually over a period of years. It's a slow disease which starts off causing mild memory problems and ends up causing serious mental damage. It affects a person's ability to think, remember, and talk. It develops as a result of a complex cascade of biological processes that take place over many years inside the brain. .
It's estimated that 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Most victims are more than 65 years old, but it can affect men and women in their 40s and 50s. A person with Alzheimer's disease will live an average of eight years and as many as twenty years or more from the onset of symptoms. More than 100,000 die of complications from Alzheimer's annually, making it the fourth leading cause of death in adults. .
The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are impaired memory and thinking, disorientation and confusion, misplacing things, abstract thinking, trouble performing familiar tasks, changes in behavior and personality, poor or decreased judgement, inability to follow directions, problems with language and communication, impaired visual and spatial skills, loss of motivation or initiative, and loss of normal sleep patterns. .
It's not clear what specifically causes Alzheimer's, but age and family history are risk factors. Scientists generally agree that there is unlikely to be a single clear cause of the disease. It is more likely the combination of inter-related factors, including genetic factors, which are passed along family lines of inheritance, and environmental influences, which range from previous head trauma to educational level to one's experiences early in life. .
For people in the early and middle stage of the disease, there are medications that can help with memory loss and language problems, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and wandering.