What is Alzheimer's disease?

Ask the Expert

Q:

What is Alzheimer's disease?


A:

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in older people. It is a degenerative disease of the brain initially characterized by gradual loss of short-term memory and then increasing difficulty performing simple, routine tasks. It starts in one part of the brain and gradually invades other regions. As it progresses, Alzheimer's destroys nerve cells within the brain and the connections between them, leaving behind clumps of proteins called plaques and twisted fibers in brain cells called tangles. Over time, this destruction erodes the most vital abilities of human nature: language, learning, memory and reason.

The disease progresses at different speeds for every individual, but eventually most people experience disorientation and personality and behavior changes. Communicating with others becomes difficult, and the ability to stay focused and follow directions becomes more challenging. Ultimately, people with Alzheimer's require more and more assistance with activities of daily living and eventually become entirely dependent on others.

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