Alzheimer's disease (AD), also referred to simply as Alzheimer's, is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and gradually worsens over time. It is the cause of 60–70% of cases of dementia. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. As the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation (including easily getting lost), mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self-care, and behavioral issues. As a person's condition declines, they often withdraw from family and society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death. Although the speed of progression can vary, the typical life expectancy following diagnosis is three to nine years.
The cause of Alzheimer's disease is poorly understood. About 70% of the risk is believed to be inherited from a person's parents, with many genes usually involved. Other risk factors include a history of head injuries, depression, and hypertension. The disease process is associated with plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. A probable diagnosis is based on the history of the illness and cognitive testing with medical imaging and blood tests to rule out other possible causes. Initial symptoms are often mistaken for normal ageing. Examination of brain tissue is needed for a definite diagnosis. Mental and physical exercise and avoiding obesity may decrease the risk of AD; however, evidence to support these recommendations is weak. There are no medications or supplements that have been shown to decrease risk.
No treatments stop or reverse its progression, though some may temporarily improve symptoms. Affected people increasingly rely on others for assistance, often placing a burden on the caregiver. The pressures can include social, psychological, physical, and economic elements. Exercise programs may be beneficial with respect to activities of daily living and can potentially improve outcomes. Behavioural problems or psychosis due to dementia are often treated with antipsychotics, but this is not usually recommended, as there is little benefit and an increased risk of early death.
In 2015, there were approximately 29.8 million people worldwide with AD. It most often begins in people over 65 years of age, although 4–5% of cases are early-onset Alzheimer's. It affects about 6% of people 65 years and older. In 2015, dementia resulted in about 1.9 million deaths. It was first described by, and later named after, German psychiatrist and pathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906. In developed countries, AD is one of the most financially costly diseases.
The first symptoms are often mistakenly attributed to ageing or stress. Detailed neuropsychological testing can reveal mild cognitive difficulties up to eight years before a person fulfills the clinical criteria for diagnosis of AD. These early symptoms can affect the most complex activities of daily living. The most noticeable deficit is short term memory loss, which shows up as difficulty in remembering recently learned facts and inability to acquire new information.
Subtle problems with the executive functions of attentiveness, planning, flexibility, and abstract thinking, or impairments in semantic memory (memory of meanings, and concept relationships) can also be symptomatic of the early stages of AD. Apathy can be observed at this stage, and remains the most persistent neuropsychiatric symptom throughout the course of the disease.Depressive symptoms, irritability and reduced awareness of subtle memory difficulties are also common.The preclinical stage of the disease has also been termed mild cognitive impairment (MCI).[This is often found to be a transitional stage between normal ageing and dementia. MCI can present with a variety of symptoms, and when memory loss is the predominant symptom, it is termed "amnestic MCI" and is frequently seen as a prodromal stage of Alzheimer's disease.
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