Information for Patients & Caregivers
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What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a disorder occurring primarily in late life in which the patient's memory, thinking and behavior are impaired because specific brain cells degenerate. With the passage of time, Alzheimer's disease gets steadily worse. At the present time, there is no cure. The Alzheimer's disease Association estimates that 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and 100,000 die of the disease each year.

For more information on caring for Alzheimer's patients, read:

The 36-Hour Day
A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life.
Co-authored by Peter Rabins, MD, MPH, the co-director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Program at Johns Hopkins
Many individuals show early symptoms of the disease when they are in their 60s or early 70s. Some people fear that occasional forgetfulness, like misplacing keys or not remembering a name, is a sign of Alzheimer's disease. However, this kind of ordinary memory loss does not mean that a person has Alzheimer's disease.

Initially, memory impairments in Alzheimer's disease are mild but eventually they begin to impact on the life of affected individuals, diminishing their ability to work or function normally. They forget easily and often repeat the same questions even after hearing the answer. They lose objects, or forget where they are, how they got there and how to get home. They begin having trouble with language, judgment, problem solving and calculating numbers. Their mood may change suddenly, swinging from calm to rage and back again within minutes, without apparent reason. Dealing with these individuals may be very difficult for family members or caregivers.

These changes occur slowly and may at first be mistaken for simple forgetfulness. However, in Alzheimer's disease, patients grow progressively worse. Medications can only improve some of the symptoms.