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Ask an Expert about Alzheimer's Disease

Latest Questions and Answers
Is there a connection between Alzheimer's disease and aluminum or other metals? [ 05/01/15 ]

Metals have been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases, although it is unlikely that any are the sole cause. For example, interest in a possible connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease arose over 40 years ago, and the toxicity of aluminum has been the subject of much controversy since that time. However, aluminum has never been proven to be a direct cause of Alzheimer's, and increasingly, evidence shows that Alzheimer's disease is likely caused not by one, but by a combination of factors.

Zinc, copper and iron have also been implicated in the formation of beta amyloid protein plaques that are part of Alzheimer's disease. Zinc and copper interact with amyloid beta precursor protein (APP) and beta amyloid itself, although their role is not clear. While copper promotes free radical formation, zinc is an antioxidant. However, high levels of zinc may contribute to the aggregation of beta amyloid. One particular way in which copper binds to beta amyloid appears to be toxic. Clearly, further research is necessary to determine the exact role of metals in Alzheimer's disease.

Are there drugs that can delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease? [ 05/01/15 ]

Aricept (donepezil), an Alzheimer's disease treatment appears to have a slowing effect—though limited—on the progression from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in April 2005 by the New England Journal of Medicine. Those with MCI, such as the study participants, experience memory problems, but are able to function independently; however, MCI is often a transitional stage that leads to the serious cognitive decline of Alzheimer's disease. Over the first year of the three-year trial, MCI patients treated with Aricept had a reduced risk of progressing to Alzheimer's disease compared to patients who took a placebo, an inactive pill. The study found the effect of the Aricept treatment lasted longer (up to two to three years) in those patients carrying the ApoE4 gene. Previous studies have shown that those with the ApoE4 gene have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than the general population. Source: Mayo Clinic, Rochester and the National Institute on Aging

Is Alzheimer's disease hereditary? [ 05/01/15 ]

Familial Alzheimer's disease (FAD) or early-onset Alzheimer's is an inherited, rare form of the disease, affecting less than 10 percent of Alzheimer's disease patients. FAD develops before age 65, in people as young as 35. It is caused by one of three gene mutations on chromosomes 1, 14 and 21. If even one of these mutated genes is inherited from a parent, the person will almost always develop FAD. All offspring in the same generation have a 50/50 chance of developing FAD if one parent has it.

The majority of Alzheimer's disease cases are late-onset, usually developing after age 65. Late-onset Alzheimer's disease has no known cause and shows no obvious inheritance pattern. However, in some families, clusters of cases are seen. Although a specific gene has not been identified as the cause of late-onset Alzheimer's disease, genetic factors do appear to play a role in the development of this form of the disease. A gene called Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) appears to be a risk factor for the late-onset form of AD. There are three forms of this gene: ApoE2, ApoE3 and ApoE4. Roughly one in four Americans has ApoE4 and one in twenty has ApoE2. While inheritance of ApoE4 increases the risk of developing AD, ApoE2 substantially protects against the disease.

Scientists believe that several other genes may influence the development of Alzheimer's disease. Two of these genes, UBQLN1 and SORL1, are located on chromosomes 9 and 11. Researchers have also identified three genes on chromosome 10, one of which produces an insulin degrading enzyme that may contribute to the disease. A gene, called TOMM40, appears to significantly increase one's susceptibility to developing Alzheimer's when other risk factors are present, such as having the ApoE-4 gene. Several recently discovered genes that influence Alzheimer's disease risk are CLU (also called APOJ) on chromosome 8, which produces a protein called clusterin, PICALM on chromosome 11 and CR1 on chromosome 1.

In October of 2013, an international group of researchers reported on the identification of 11 new genes that offer important new insights into the disease pathways involved in Alzheimer's disease.The new genes (HLA-DRB5/HLA0DRB1, PTK2B, SLC24A4-0RING3, DSG2, INPP5D, MEF2C, NME8, ZCWPW1, CELF1, FERMT2 and CASS4) add to a growing list of gene variants associated with onset and progression of late-onset Alzheimer's.

Genetic risk factors alone are not enough to cause the late-onset form of Alzheimer's disease, so researchers are actively exploring education, diet and environment to learn what role they might play in the development of this disease.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? [ 11/04/14 ]

Dementia is a decline in thinking, reasoning, and/or remembering. People with dementia have difficulty carrying out daily tasks they have performed routinely and independently throughout their lives. Vascular dementia, a hardening of the arteries in the brain that causes blockage in blood flow, is one of the two most common forms of dementia; the other is Alzheimer's disease. These two conditions account for the vast majority of cases; both are irreversible, although sometimes their symptoms can be managed.

A doctor can accurately determine whether a person is suffering from Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. If a person appears to be losing mental abilities to a degree that interferes with daily activities and social interactions, consult a doctor.

Where can I find more information about Alzheimer's disease? [ 11/04/14 ]

BrightFocus’ Alzheimer's Disease Research website goes into greater depth on many topics and covers additional areas of concern, both medical and social. You can learn where to get help and access to resources, as well as download free publications. And explore in-depth articles written by the experts.

For more information dealing with the topics below, please visit the helpful organizations section of our website.

  • General Information, Resources, and Referrals
  • State and Local Resources
  • Caregiving and Caregiver Support
  • Safety
  • Government Programs
  • Legal Assistance
  • Long-Term Care and Living Options
  • Research and Clinical Trials
  • Hospice Care

Is Alzheimer's covered by Medicare/Medicaid? [ 11/04/14 ]

Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older who receive Social Security retirement benefits. To receive assistance from Medicare, a person must meet specific eligibility requirements. Medicare covers some, but not all, of the services a person with Alzheimer's disease may require. For example, the program does not cover long term healthcare. Medicaid is a federal program for certain individuals and families with low incomes and resources, typically administered by state agencies; eligibility and benefits vary from state to state. Medicaid can cover all or a portion of nursing home costs. A person with Alzheimer's can qualify for long term care only if there are minimal income and cash assets. Medicaid may be applied for by calling each state's Department of Human Services or Medicaid Assistance Program.

How long does Alzheimer's disease last on average? [ 11/04/14 ]

On average, patients with Alzheimer's disease live for 8 to 10 years after diagnosis. However, this terminal disease can last for as long as 20 years.

What kind of information should I bring to my first visit to the doctor? [ 11/04/14 ]

If you visit a new doctor, bring your medical records; for any doctor, bring a list of over the counter and prescription medicines you are currently taking. If you don't know the names of the drugs, bring the pill bottles with you. A medication or a combination of medications can sometimes cause symptoms that resemble Alzheimer's disease. Also make a list of current medical problems. It's a good idea to show the doctor a list of symptoms, behaviors and any problems carrying out routine activities (for example, paying bills) in yourself or your loved one that concern you.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

Last Review: 04/29/13

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