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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterised in the brain by abnormal clumps (amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (neurofibrillary tangles) composed of misplaced proteins. Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease; the number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. Three genes have been discovered that cause early onset (familial) Alzheimer's disease. Other genetic mutations that cause excessive accumulation of amyloid protein are associated with age-related (sporadic) Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include memory loss, language deterioration, impaired ability to mentally manipulate visual information, poor judgment, confusion, restlessness, and mood swings. Eventually Alzheimer's disease destroys cognition, personality, and the ability to function. The early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, which include forgetfulness and loss of concentration, are often missed because they resemble natural signs of aging.

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and no way to slow the progression of the disease. For some people in the early or middle stages of Alzheimer's disease, medication such as tacrine (Cognex) may alleviate some cognitive symptoms. Donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Reminyl) may keep some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. A fifth drug, memantine (Namenda), was recently approved for use in the United States. Combining memantine with other Alzheimer's disease drugs may be more effective than any single therapy. One controlled clinical trial found that patients receiving donepezil plus memantine had better cognition and other functions than patients receiving donepezil alone. Also, other medications may help control behavioural symptoms such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression.

What is the prognosis?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease, but its course can vary from 5 to 20 years. The most common cause of death in Alzheimer's disease patients is infection.


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