Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms

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Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that damages parts of the brain. Alzheimer's disease symptoms affect memory, judgment, behavior, intelligence, and language.

Alzheimer's disease has no known cure and worsens over time. It is the sixth leading cause of death and the United States. Survival after an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis can range from 4 to 20 years. The average patient lives for eight years after symptoms become noticeable.

Specific Alzheimer's disease symptoms include:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • Serious memory loss
  • Confusion and disorientation about events, time and place
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Unfounded suspicions about family, friends, and caregivers
  • Problems with speaking, swallowing, and walking

What causes Alzheimer's disease symptoms?

The research into the cause of Alzheimer's disease and its symptoms is ongoing, but scientists believe the disease prevents certain brain cells from functioning normally. Researchers suspect that two abnormal structures in the brain – plaques and tangles – may be principally responsible for damaging and killing brain nerve cells. Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment that build up in the spaces between nerve cells, while tangles are twisted fibers of another protein that build up inside cells. Most people have some plaques and tangles as they get older, but those with Alzheimer's tend to have far more. It's unclear what role the structures play in the cause of Alzheimer's disease, but some experts believe they are involved in blocking communication between nerve cells and interrupting processes that cells require to survive.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease symptoms at BWH

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have made groundbreaking discoveries in Alzheimer's research over the past 30 years. The BWH Alzheimer Center in the Department of Neurology Services provides a comprehensive program that involves laboratory research, clinical trials, and patient care to advance the prevention of Alzheimer's and treatment of Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

In this video, Reisa Sperling, MD, provides an overview on Alzheimer's disease dementia and a new groundbreaking study, the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's Disease (A4) Study. The A4 Study is the first study to examine early treatment of older adults at risk for Alzheimer's disease dementia with the hope of preventing memory loss before it begins. Read the Alzheimer's Disease A4 Study white paper (pdf).

Treatment for Alzheimer's disease symptoms at BWH

There is no known cure for the disease, but Alzheimer's disease symptoms may be treated in a number of ways.

  • Medications may be prescribed by a neurologist and to help enhance memory and attention, or to address mood and behavioral disorders.
  • Education for patients and their families helps everyone affected by the disease better understand the illness and its symptoms and plan more effectively for the future.
  • Treating other conditions is an important part of the treatment of Alzheimer's disease symptoms. The BWH team carefully reviews medication that patients may be taking for other conditions and assesses whether side effects may be contributing to their Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

Dennis Selkoe, MD, Co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, discusses progress in the development of Alzheimer's disease treatments that target the amyloid beta protein. Read the Research Updates on Amyloid Beta and Alzheimer's Disease video transcript.

Patients may also visit the Neurology Services Department for sleep disordersmigraine treatment, or an EMG test, and consult with the Neurosurgery Department about conditions that include tumors, and epilepsy, spinal surgery and other conditions.

Learn more about Alzheimer's disease symptoms at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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