Learn about the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and how these symptoms progress.
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Question: What is Alzheimer's disease? Dr. Bill Simpson: Well, Alzheimer's disease was defined back at the turn of the 20th century by Alois Alzheimer, who gave his name to the disease when he talked about a woman who developed premature dementia, loss of previously acquired minimal functions of not able to think as well as she had been before. She was in her forties, and that's very unusual. But his description of the woman and of the pathology in her brain was what gave the disease its name. The pathology in the brain is what they call neurofibrillary tangles and plaques. Those are just anatomical findings that the pathologist can see in the brain and people that have Alzheimer's, they have lots of those abnormal spots. It looks like a person who can't remember as well as they were able to. The earliest sign is the difficulty with executive things, planning things, planning a party, planning a menu, balancing a checkbook, doing a budget, those things are among the first things that are difficult to do in a patient with Alzheimer's. Then it progresses. It's a progressive disease and essentially moves from normal function to back to almost infant like, unable to speak or talk or move. But it's a very long process, usually a process of 5 to 10 to 15 years from the first symptoms to the last symptoms. Question: What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease? Dr. Bill Simpson: Well, those early ones are the executive functions, decision making. They move then to more simple things that we think of that we do without even thinking, that is choosing a wardrobe, choosing the clothes that we wear, being able to complete a recipe. Then to difficulty with eating and to toileting and to dressing and bathing, all those things become more and more difficult for the patient with Alzheimer's disease as it progresses. Then finally, unable to dress themselves or to get around on their own, they lie on bed. The thing that kills Alzheimer's patients is primarily pneumonia. They just don't get up and move around enough and they become bedridden and they have some disease that results from being in bed all the time. Question: What are the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease? Dr. Bill Simpson: Age is the most significant risk factor where having people live longer. Live the greater, the likely that we might develop Alzheimer's disease. Other risk factors; people that have had multiple blows to the head seemed to have an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. People that have lower levels of educational achievement tend to have a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease. However, it crosses all sections of the society but those are some of the few of the multiple risk factors that are out there. There are a few strong genetic risk factors, that is they are strong in some families that have high levels of Alzheimer's disease in them. We don't really understand exactly why it is probably a genetic thing. We know that there are genes that control Alzheimer's disease and if you have a double dose of those genes, then you may have a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease developing in the future. But most of the time, we don't know why Alzheimer's develops, at least so far, there is a great deal of research trying to find these part in the brain, and the gene's code that makes us have Alzheimer's disease risk increase or some other biochemical abnormality that makes those neurofibrillary tangles and plaques develop in our brains.