Alzheimer's Disease Facts: Diseases of the World

This neurodegenerative disorder has no known cure, affecting up to 35 million people worldwide.



Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease. As such, it is also the most common type of the category of brain diseases classified as dementia. The cause of Alzheimer's is generally genetic, with a multiple number of genes involved in its formation and its complications. Still, head injuries, depression, and cerebral plague are thought to lead to, or at least augment, the development of the disease and its symptoms.


Early symptoms are generally limited to short-term memory loss, mood swings, and disorientation, all of which progress continuously until resulting in failure to recognize well-known people, aloofness from society, and losing grip on personal bonds. In the final stages, bodily metabolic functions start to deteriorate, possibly resulting in death.

Estimates vary about the number of people suffering from Alzheimer's across the world. There may be anywhere between 21 and 35 million people affected with it living in the world. Most of the people with the affliction are 65 years of age or older, though there is a certain percentage of cases of Early Onset Alzheimer's as well. As the initial symptoms of the disease are common aging-related issues, it is often very difficult to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's. Common modes of identification are by examinations of medical case histories and cognitive testing and, with them, the use of medical imaging of brain and blood tests are undertaken to rule out other factors.


At present, there are no known treatments that permanently abet or prevent the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Still, some drugs and lifestyle therapies may help in slowing down the degeneration, at least temporarily. Alzheimer's patients often have to depend on the assistance of caregivers. Antipsychotic drugs are prescribed in cases of psychotic symptoms, but they are not generally recommended due to their potentially severe side effects in cases of Alzheimer's. Drugs like tacrine, donepezil, galantamine, and memantine are generally prescribed for treatment instead. None of these medicines provide substantial benefits or reverse the progress of the disease. Various lifestyle therapies focusing on stimulating memory have been seen to be effective in halting progression. Treatment in the later stages consists mostly of palliative care, typically in a hospice. Patients generally live 3 to 9 years after diagnosis. In developed countries, treatment for Alzheimer's is one of the costliest among all terminal diseases.


Caregiving is considered crucial in cases dealing with Alzheimer's patients. In the initial stages, care by people close to the patients is beneficial. Some modification of the immediate environment of the patient is necessary, such as keeping their houses clear of harmful substances, putting labels on objects so that they are easily identifiable, and helping the patient live with a simpler routine. However, in later stages more specialized care in a hospital or hospice might become necessary.

A diet rich in fish, vegetables, and cheese, and low in fat, is generally associated with low probability of Alzheimer's disease. Hobbies which need mental exertion, such as board games, solving puzzles, painting, or reading, are considered effective in helping to prevent the disease. People who smoke are at increased risk of being affected. People who engage in regular physical exercise and people with the knowledge of a second language are also known to be at reduced risk. Doctors stress regular social interactions, both with close relations and the larger community, as important factors which can abet or thwart the disease.


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