About Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term to describe the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.

The causes of dementia can vary, depending on the types of brain changes that may be taking place. There are many types of dementia and it is common for people to have a combination of two or more disorders. For example, some people have both Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies.

Other types of dementia include:

  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Mixed Dementia
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Other conditions that can cause memory loss or dementia:

  • Medication side effects
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Tumors or infections in the brain
  • Blood clots in the brain
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Some thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Sleep disturbances

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. It is a neurodegenerative disease and the most common cause of dementia among older adults. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.

What Should You Know About AD?

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older. But Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s).

Alzheimer's worsens over time. It progresses slowly in three general stages — mild (early-stage), moderate (middle-stage), and severe (late-stage). Since Alzheimer's affects people in different ways, each person will experience symptoms - or progress through Alzheimer's stages - differently.

Alzheimer's has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer's treatments cannot stop Alzheimer's from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.

History & Brain Changes

The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After she died, he examined her brain and found many abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles).

These plaques and tangles in the brain are still considered some of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease. Another feature is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Neurons transmit messages between different parts of the brain, and from the brain to muscles and organs in the body.

Signs and Symptoms

The first sign of Alzheimer's disease is the inability to remember new information over time. Symptoms differ in many people with Alzheimer's disease but the 10 most common symptoms are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words when speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality including apathy and depression

Difference between Alzheimer's Disease and Normal Aging

Alzheimer's Disease Normal Aging
Making poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time Making bad a decision once in a while
Problems taking care of monthly bills Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or time of year Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later
Trouble having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things often and being unable to find them Losing things from time to time

When Should You See a Doctor?

Recognizing signs of Alzheimer's disease is key to seeking help from your doctor. If you or your family members have been noticing some of these symptoms occurring more often, speak to your doctor or meet with a neurologist.

Your doctor or a neurologist can begin addressing your concerns by:

  • Giving you a medical and physical check up
  • Asking about your medical, family, and psychiatric history
  • Asking a family member or someone close to you about any changes in your thinking and behavior they may have noticed
  • Testing your memory, problem solving, counting and language skills
  • Performing certain blood test
  • Sending you for appropriate brain imaging in order to rule out other causes of your symptoms

Videos About Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

In support of the Center of Excellence for Alzheimer's Disease's (CEAD) mission to provide awareness on memory disorders such as dementia, the secondary mission of CEAD is to provide education on early detection of Alzheimer's disease and other related dementia's to healthcare professionals and the general public. 

In an effort to share the expertise of our team, we created a bilingual educational program series called "Health & Memory"/ "Salud Y Memoria" where essential members of our team are interviewed, and provide details around diagnosis, managing symptoms and resources to help support individuals with dementia and their families.  

Health and Memory

Health and Memory (English)

Genetic Testing

Health & Memory Genetic Testing (English)

Salud y Memoria

Salud y Memoria (Spanish)

Salud y Memoria