The most common form of dementia causes problems with memory, behavior, and thinking that worsen over time, eventually leading to death. There is no cure. Over 5 million people in the United States have the disease. Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging.
Each person's experience with Alzheimer's disease or dementia is different. Even so, some symptoms are common and usually move through predictable stages, from mild to more severe, over the course of several years. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include loss of memory, trouble finding words, general disorientation, difficulty making judgments, as well as changes in behavior and personality. The following links contain information on what symptoms are associated with each stage:
- The NIH Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center has information about symptoms at each stage and on how the disease progresses.
- The U.S. National Library of Medicine, PubMed, provides an overview of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
What other diseases have similar symptoms?
Memory loss or confusion can be caused by other problems, too. Sometimes these same symptoms are caused by an easily treatable issue, such as reaction to a medicine taken for a different health problem, or even a vitamin deficiency. It's important to get the right diagnosis so treatment can target the right problem.
- For more information about related dementias, the National Institute on Aging offers an overview.
Who is most at risk for developing Alzheimer's?
Age is the best-known risk factor for Alzheimer's. The older you get, the greater your chance of developing Alzheimer's. Genetics may play a role as well. In rare families, certain genes may cause the disease. For most people who develop the disease later in life, some genes may increase your risk, but do not cause the disease.
Some studies suggest that the rate of Alzheimer's is higher in certain racial or ethnic groups, such as African Americans, and scientists are exploring possible explanations.
People with specific medical histories are at greater risk of Alzheimer's, including people with:
- Down Syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disorders
- Repeated concussions (falls, sports injuries, and car accidents are common causes of concussions and TBI)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI and mild TBI)
Being at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease does not necessarily mean that you will develop the disease. Scientists continue to explore factors that may increase your chances of having Alzheimer's and, equally important, what may protect people from developing the disease.