Alzheimer's disease can be emotionally and physically draining for those afflicted, as well as for those caring for someone with the disease. Here's a primer with resources and basic information.
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is defined by the Alzheimer's Association as "a degenerative brain disease that usually begins gradually, causing a person to forget recent events or familiar tasks. How rapidly it advances varies from person to person, but the brain disease eventually causes confusion, personality and behavior changes, and impaired judgment."
How Many People Are Affected?
It is estimated that one in 10 persons over 65 years old has Alzheimer's disease. Nearly half of Americans over the age of 85 are believed to have the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In 2001, 4 million Americans were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Unless a cure or prevention is found, that number will jump to 14 million by the year 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
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.
The Warning Signs
Memory loss that affects job skills
Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Problems with language
Disorientation to time and place (this contributes to wandering)
Poor or decreased judgment
Problems with abstract thinking
Changes in mood or behavior
Changes in personality
Loss of initiative
What Causes Alzheimer's?
There is no known cause. But family history and age are potential risk factors.
Chicago-based Alzheimer's Assocation's national network of chapters is the largest voluntary health organization that aims to find a cure for Alzheimer's and aiding those who are affected by the disease. Their Web site provides information about Alzheimer's disease for patients and caregivers. The association's Benjamin B. Green-Field Library and Resource Center collects books, CD-ROMs, journals and videos on Alzheimer's that are available to the public through interlibrary loan.
The ADEAR Center is a service of the National Institute on Aging, one of the National Institutes of Health. It provides an information and referral service with a 1-800 number (800-438-4380) that allows people to speak with an information specialist. The site also provides research updates, Alzheimer's disease publications, as well as information about clinical trials.
The ADCC is part of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center (CN-ADC) of Northwestern University Medical School, and is funded by the National Institute on Aging. Among other goals, the ADCC seeks to provide a registry of patients and healthy subjects for research into the causes and the prevention of the disease. The center also evaluates caregiver needs and makes recommendations for resource networks.