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Ask an Expert about Alzheimer's Disease

Latest Questions and Answers
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 there a connection between Alzheimer's disease and aluminum or other metals? [ 11/04/14 ]

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.


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.


What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease? [ 11/04/14 ]

The following stages represent the general course the disease follows, but moving from one stage to another may not be perceptable due to the fact that the symptoms are on a gradual continuum of severity.

Pre-clinical/Pre-symptomatic Stage:
Physical conditions connected to Alzheimer’s disease exist in a person’s body long before symptoms are evident. These conditions are normally defined through the use of “biomarker” tests, like those searching for beta-amyloid and tau proteins in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and specialized PET and MRI scans. Currently, this stage is only defined in research settings and clinical trials and is unlikely to be given as an official clinical diagnosis by a health professional.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) Due To Alzheimer’s Disease/Prodromal Stage:
Recently, scientists have identified a condition between normal age-related memory loss and dementia called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Individuals with MCI have persistent memory problems (for example, difficulty remembering names and following conversations and marked forgetfulness) but are able to perform routine activities without more than usual assistance. MCI often leads to Alzheimer’s, but while all those who progress to some form of dementia go through a period of MCI, not all patients exhibiting MCI will develop Alzheimer’s disease. An official clinical diagnosis of MCI can be given by a health professional.

Dementia Due To Alzheimer’s Disease (Mild, Moderate, Severe Stages):

Mild (Stage 1)
Early in the illness, people with Alzheimer’s tend to lose energy and spontaneity, though often no one notices anything unusual. They exhibit minor memory loss and mood swings and are slow to learn and react. After a while they start to shy away from anything new and prefer the familiar. In this stage, Alzheimer’s patients can still perform basic tasks independently but may need assistance with more complicated activities. Speech and understanding become slower, and patients often lose their train of thought in midsentence. They may also get lost while traveling or forget to pay bills. As they become aware of this loss of control, they may become depressed, fearful, irritable, and restless.

Moderate (Stage 2)
Eventually, people with the illness begin to be disabled by it. Though the distant past may be recalled, recent events become difficult to remember. Advancing Alzheimer’s affects the ability to comprehend location, the day, and the time. Caregivers must give clear instructions and repeat them often. As Alzheimer’s patients’ minds continue to slip away, they may invent words and not recognize formerly familiar faces.

Severe (Stage 3)
During the final stage, patients become more and more unresponsive. Memory becomes so poor that no one is recognizable. Patients lose bowel and bladder control and eventually need constant care. They lose the ability to chew and swallow and become bedridden and vulnerable to pneumonia, infection, and other illnesses. Respiratory problems worsen, particularly when the patient becomes bedridden. This terminal stage eventually leads to coma and death.


Are memory problems an indication of Alzheimer's disease? [ 11/04/14 ]

Mild forgetfulness and memory delays often occur as part of the normal aging process. Older individuals simply need more time to learn a new fact or to remember an old one. We all have occasional difficulty remembering a word or someone's name; however, those with Alzheimer's disease (AD) will find these symptoms progressing in frequency and severity. Everyone, from time to time will forget where they placed their car keys; an individual with Alzheimer's may not remember the purpose of the keys.

There has been recent interest in a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Individuals with MCI have memory impairment (pronounced forgetfulness), but are able to perform routine activities without assistance. However, MCI has been identified as a major risk factor for developing AD. While all patients who develop some form of dementia go through a period of MCI, not all patients exhibiting MCI will go on to develop AD.

Many conditions can contribute to the development of memory problems and dementia; AD is just one of them. A decline in intellectual functioning that significantly interferes with normal social relationships and daily activities is characteristic of dementia, of which AD is the most common form. AD and multi-infarct dementia (a series of small strokes in the brain) cause the vast majority of dementias in the elderly. Other possible causes of dementia-like symptoms include infections, drug interactions, a metabolic or nutritional disorder, brain tumors, depression or another progressive disease like Parkinson's disease.

If memory loss increases in frequency or severity, makes an impression on friends and family, begins to interfere with daily activities (employment tasks, social interactions, and family chores, for example), seek out qualified professional advice and evaluation by a physician with extensive knowledge, experience and interest in dementia and memory problems.


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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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