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What is Alzheimer's disease?

Ronald Reagan once led our country with vitality and charisma; he and his family now lead silently in their battle with Alzheimer's disease, a battle which has never been won.  Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia in which brain cells get destroyed causing impaired memory and progressively lost cognitive and functional abilities.  Independence is lost early on although symptoms appear gradually and continue to worsen with age.  This disease is always terminal.  Alzheimer's is the fourth leading cause of death in adults after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. 

The only way to diagnose Alzheimer's definitively is with an autopsy.  Because of this, the diagnosis is one of exclusion, meaning several diagnostic tests must be performed to "rule out" other diseases as well as other causes of dementia.  Some examples include:  depression, reactions to various medications, nutritional deficiencies, and salt imbalance.

Nearly 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, which affects one in 10 people over 65 and half of those over age 85.  Genetics plays a strong role here. Women are much more likely to be affected than men.

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Created: 11/13/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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