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Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia (mental deterioration of memory and thought processes) among the elderly. It is estimated that 4.5 million Americans over the age of 65 are affected with this condition. After the age of 65, the incidence of the disease doubles every five (5) years and, by age 85, it will affect nearly half of the population. Alzheimer's disease was first described in 1906 by German neurologist Alois Alzheimer.
The disease causes irreversible changes in the nerve cells of certain vulnerable areas of the brain. It is characterized by nerve-cell loss, abnormal tangles within nerve cells and deficiencies of several chemicals, which are essential for the transmission of nerve messages. The disorder leads to behavioral and personality changes, forgetfulness, confusion, inability to learn new material, paranoia and motor activity problems.
Language difficulties also are common in people with Alzheimer's disease. The disease typically progresses to the stage where it is difficult for the patient to be understood by others or to understand others, and in the final stages, the patient is bedridden. Although nearly half of those over 85 may have Alzheimer's disease, it is not a 'normal' part of aging.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but a great deal can be done to manage it. Caregiving is a vital element of care for persons with Alzheimer’s and it is essentially the current treatment.
No medication to date has been clearly shown to delay or halt the progression of AD. Donepezil (Aricept) is a cholinesterase inhibitor approved for treatment of advanced AD dementia. Other medications in this family include rivastigmine and galantamine. Memantine (Namenda) has a different mechanism of action – it is an NMDA receptor antagonist.