Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer's Disease

By Ronald Petersen | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. It primarily affects adults in their 60s or older. Its development is unrelenting and irreversible. Alzheimer’s gradually robs a person of intellect and memory and the ability to reason, learn and communicate. The disease changes a person’s personality and impairs judgment. It ultimately destroys a person’s ability to perform simple, routine tasks or even to care for himself or herself. The course Alzheimer’s takes may run anywhere from 2 to 20 years after the first signs appear, although death often occurs in about 8 to 10 years. It’s worth emphasizing that the course the disease will take is highly variable from person to person. A caregiver shouldn’t assume that death is imminent for a loved one who has had the disease for 8 years.


How Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain

Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain by destroying its basic component, the neuron. Neuron loss occurs first in the hippocampus, the central switchboard of your memory system. That’s why memory loss is often associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s. There may also be disorientation and the loss of spatial memory — which is the perception of where objects or places are located in relation to

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