What is Alzheimer Disease?
Alzheimer Disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder
of the central nervous system notably characterized by deterioration of memory
and cognitive abilities. It is the most prevalent type of dementia. Alzheimer
Disease is not a 'normal' part of the aging process. The earliest and most
pervasive symptom of Alzheimer Disease is memory loss.
Alzheimer Disease affects individuals differently.
Although individuals may exhibit different symptoms at different stages of
the disease, there do exist certain symptoms that are common to all individuals
with Alzheimer Disease. These include:
- Short term memory loss and, eventually, long term
- Difficulty with comprehension, communication, and
- Deterioration of ability to reason and make judgments.
Other symptoms affecting moods, emotions, behaviour,
and physical abilities commonly appear. For a detailed listing of symptoms
that generally arise in individuals suffering from Alzheimer Disease, please
refer to The Alzheimer Society of Canada website at www.alzheimers.ca.
At this time, there is no known cause of Alzheimer
Disease. The scientific community has been able to separate Alzheimer Disease
into two different types: (1) Familial Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer Disease
("FAD"), and (2) Sporadic Alzheimer Disease ("SAD").
According to The Alzheimer Society of Canada, FAD is
the rare type of Alzheimer Disease comprising 5% to 10% of all cases and being
passed on genetically. If one parent has the affected gene, then each child
of that parent has a 50% probability of inheriting the gene. If the child
inherits the affected gene, then that child will eventually develop Alzheimer
Sporadic Alzheimer Disease ("SAD") is the
more common type of Alzheimer Disease comprising 90% to 95% of all cases.
Although it has not yet been determined as to whether or not SAD has a genetic
component, it has been shown that those individuals with a family history
of Alzheimer Disease are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer Disease.
Certain other risk factors related to the development of SAD include:
1 in 20 Canadians over age 65 is affected. Past age 85, the chances increase
to 1 in 4.
- Multiple Head Injury
Those who suffer multiple head injuries with loss of consciousness may be
more likely to develop SAD.
- Down Syndrome
As they age, individuals with Down Syndrome develop
the neuroanatomical changes associated with Alzheimer Disease.
Exposure to aluminum in the environment may increase
the likelihood of developing SAD.
For a detailed listing of possible causes of Alzheimer
Disease, please refer to The Alzheimer Society of Canada website at www.alzheimers.ca
The scientific community has not determined how to
conclusively diagnosis Alzheimer Disease.
At present, diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease is made
by eliminating other possible causes of an individual's symptoms. If no other
cause is believed to be responsible for the individual's symptoms, and these
symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer Disease, then the individual would
commonly be diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease.
Early assessment and subsequent diagnosis is of utmost
importance since an individual in the early stages of Alzheimer Disease (i.e.,
mild memory and cognitive impairment) may be effectively treated with medications.
In Canada, several medications are available to temporarily
halt progression of memory and cognitive deterioration. These medications
require a physician's prescription. They are most beneficial to individuals
in the early stages of Alzheimer Disease (i.e., mild memory and cognitive
impairment). Unfortunately, individuals in the moderate to later stages of
Alzheimer Disease typically do not show improvement nor slowing of symptoms.
This makes early diagnosis imperative for the purpose of administering effective