What is Alzheimer disease?
Alzheimer disease is a disease that affects the brain and nervous system. It happens when nerve cells in the brain die. The disease gets worse over time. It is a type of dementia.
Alzheimer disease often causes:
- Problems with memory, thinking, and behavior
- Personality changes
- Problems with judgment
- Problems with making sense when talking
- Problems with following directions
- Problems with eyesight
- Problems with knowing how objects around you relate to you (spatial awareness)
- Lack of interest or concern about other people
The disease does not affect a person’s movement. He or she can still get around normally.
What causes Alzheimer disease?
Doctors do not know what causes Alzheimer disease. They think it might be caused by one or more of these:
- Age and family history
- Certain genes
- Abnormal protein deposits in the brain
- Environmental factors
- Immune system problems
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer disease?
The following are the most common symptoms of Alzheimer disease. But not everyone has all of these symptoms. Symptoms may include:
- Memory loss that affects job skills, especially short-term memory loss
- Trouble doing familiar tasks
- Problems with language
- Confusion about time and place
- Poor judgment
- Problems with abstract thinking
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Changes in personality
- Loss of desire to do things
- Loss of the ability to know who people are. This even includes people whom the person knows well such as a child or spouse.
The symptoms of Alzheimer disease may look like other health conditions or problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is Alzheimer disease diagnosed?
No single test can diagnose Alzheimer disease. A healthcare provider will first rule out other conditions. But the only way to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease is to examine the brain after death. An autopsy can show changes in the brain that mark the disease.
It’s important to find out if the dementia is caused by an illness that can be treated. A healthcare provider will do thorough exams of the person’s nervous system. The provider may also do:
Complete health history. This may
include questions about overall health and past health problems. The provider will
see how well the person can do daily tasks. The provider may ask family members about
any changes in behavior or personality.
Mental status test. This may include
tests of memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language.
Neuropsychological testing may also be done. This will likely be a series of tests
that assess your brain function. It usually involves answering questions and doing
Other lab tests. These may include
blood and urine tests to find possible causes of the problem.
- Brain imaging tests. CT, MRI, or position emission tomography (PET) may be used to rule out other causes of the problem.