FAQs

Q: What causes Alzheimer's Disease? 
Scientists still are not certain. Age and family history have been identified as potential risk factors. Researchers are exploring the role of genetics in the development of Alzheimer's, but most agree the disease is likely caused by a variety of factors. Each year, scientists are uncovering important new clues about potential causes of the disease, which is helping to generate more accurate diagnostic tests and better treatment options for affected individuals.

Q: How many people are affected by Alzheimer's Disease? 
One in 10 persons over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimer's Disease. Today, four million Americans have Alzheimer's Disease. Unless a cure or prevention is found, that number will jump to 14 million by the year 2050. Worldwide, it is estimated that 22 million individuals will develop Alzheimer's Disesae by the year 2025. Caregivers are affected by this disease, too. In a national survey, 19 million Americans said they have a family member with Alzheimer's Disease, and 37 million said they knew someone with the disease.

Q: How is Alzheimer's Disease diagnosed? 
There is no single, comprehensive diagnostic test for Alzheimer's Disease. Instead, physicians or other specialists rule out other conditions through a process of elimination. They usually conduct physical, psychological, and neurological exams and take a thorough medical history. A diagnosis of probable Alzheimer's Disease can be obtained through evaluation with approximately 90 percent accuracy. The only way to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease is through autopsy. 

Q: How does Alzheimer's Disease progress? 
Alzheimer's Disease causes the formation of abnormal structures in the brain called plaques and tangles. As they accumulate in affected individuals, nerve cell connections are reduced. Areas of the brain that influence short-term memory tend to be affected first. Later, the disease works its way into sections of the brain that control other intellectual and physical functions.
 
Alzheimer's Disease affects people in different ways, making it difficult for medical professionals to predict how an individual's disease will progress. Some experts classify the disease by stage (early, middle, and late). But specific behaviors and how long they last vary greatly, even within each stage of the disease.

 
As more is learned about the progession of the disease, new assessment scales are being developed to help physicians track, predict, and treat symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease.

Q: Does Alzheimer's Disease run in families? 
The evidence is not clear. Cases where several members of a single family have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's are rare (except in families who have a history of early-onset Alzheimer's, a form of the disease that typically strikes middle-aged members of the same family). Much more common is the situation where a single family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease late in life. 

Q: Can Alzheimer's Disease occur in younger adults? 
Yes, though less frequently. The disease can occur in people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. However, most people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are older than 65. The early onset form of the disease that strikes younger people accounts for less than 10 percent of all reported cases. Scientists believe this variation of the disease may be genetically transmitted across multiple generations of the same family. 

Q: What treatment is available? 
There is no medical treatment currently available to cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. Four FDA-approved drugs --tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept), and rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Reminyl)--may temporarily relieve some symptoms of the disease.
 
Many other new promising drugs are now being developed--some which may be available within the next few years. Medication and nondrug therapies are also available to reduce some of the behavioral symptoms associated with Alzheimer's, such as depression, sleeplessness, and agitation.

Q: What is being done to find a cure or prevention? 
Alzheimer research is being tackled from many sides. Pharmaceutical companies, the U.S. federal government, and the national Alzheimer's Association are funding research to learn more about the disease process and to find compounds that will alleviate symptoms and prevent or cure the disease. 

Q: Can I continue to live independently? 
Whether you can continue to live independently depends on the progression of the disease and your remaining abilities. You may be able to live alone or with some assistance for some time. However, as the disease progresses, your care needs will increase, and you will need to rely on others for more help. 

Q: How do I handle my anger? 
Anger is normal. The hard part is eventually letting go of that anger so it does not consume you. The best way to deal with your anger is to face it and know that it is a normal part of the process. Tap into sources such as family, friends, or counselor; on-line chat rooms; or a support group. 

Q: Why should I participate in a support group? 
A support group allows you to hear how others have coped or are coping with difficult challenges similar to your own. Support groups are safe places to talk openly about various issues and feelings. 

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