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Alzheimer disease

Imagine waking up this morning, and not being able to remember your own name, or recognize your spouse? While Alzheimer disease is a more gradual process, over time it can destroy memory to the point where people can't even remember the simplest and most important details of their lives. Let's talk more about Alzheimer disease.

Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia, a loss of brain function that makes it harder and harder to think and speak. To understand what causes Alzheimer, we need to look inside the brain. In a normal brain, nerves send messages to one another. In people with Alzheimer disease, abnormal proteins clump in the brain, damaging nerve cells so they can no longer send the messages needed to think clearly.

So, why do some people get Alzheimer, and others do not?

Getting older itself doesn't cause Alzheimer disease. It's not a part of the normal aging process. Alzheimer does seem to run in families, though. So if you have a close relative, like a sister or parent, with Alzheimer, you may be more likely to get the disease.

Usually when Alzheimer disease starts, people have trouble remembering simple things, like their phone number, or where they put their car keys. But, as the disease progresses, memory loss gets worse. People with Alzheimer find it hard to have conversations or complete simple tasks, like getting dressed. They can also become angry or depressed. Those in the later stages of the disease can no longer care for themselves. They lose the ability to recognize even close family members.

To diagnose Alzheimer disease, doctors prescribe tests of mental ability. They also prescribe medical tests to rule out diseases that can make it harder to think clearly, such as a brain tumor or stroke.

As far as treatments for Alzheimer disease, right now, there isn't a cure. A few drugs can slow memory loss and control depression and aggressiveness from the disease. Despite what you may have read, there isn't any proof that vitamins or other supplements can prevent or treat Alzheimer. However, eating a low-fat diet that's high in vitamin E and C, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids may keep your brain healthier.

Alzheimer disease is different in each person. Some people decline quickly and die within just a few years, while others can live for two decades with the disease. If you have a family member with Alzheimer, talk to your doctor about ways to protect your own memory. And, call right away if you have any significant memory loss. Though it may be normal forgetfulness that comes with getting older, the sooner you get it checked out, the earlier you can start treatment if you need it.

Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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