Alzheimer's disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive disorder in which neurons (brain cells) deteriorate resulting in the loss of cognitive (thought) functions, primarily memory, judgment, reasoning, movement coordination, and pattern recognition. In advanced stages of the disease, all memory and mental functioning may be lost.
Alzheimer's disease may cause death; it is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. However, an individual with AD often dies from an additional illness like pneumonia.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a group of disorders that impairs mental functioning. Dementia means loss of the ability to think. Alzheimer's is progressive and irreversible. Abnormal changes in the brain worsen over time, eventually interfering with many aspects of brain function. Memory loss is one of the earliest symptoms, along with a gradual decline of other intellectual and thinking abilities, called cognitive functions, and changes in personality or behavior. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia (due to a lack of blood flow to the brain), mixed dementia (presence of both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (rapidly declining memory and cognition due to consumption of cattle with "mad-cow" disease).
Alzheimer's advances in stages, progressing from mild forgetfulness and cognitive impairment to widespread loss of mental abilities. In advanced Alzheimer's, people become dependent on others for every aspect of their care. The time course of the disease varies by individual, ranging from five to 20 years. The most common cause of death is infection.
Age is the most important known risk factor for AD. The number of people with the disease doubles every five years beyond age 65. In the United States, about 10% of people ages 65 and up, and about 50% of people ages 85 and up have AD.
There are an estimated 24 million people with general dementia worldwide. In the United States, it is estimated that about five million people currently suffer from AD, and about 360,000 people are newly diagnosed every year. Every 72 seconds in the United States, someone develops Alzheimer's. By 2050, the estimated range of Alzheimer's disease prevalence will be 11.3 million to 16 million Americans, with a middle estimate of 13.2 million unless a cure or prevention is found. Medicare and other healthcare insurances help offset the costs for individuals.
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) reports that the direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's and other dementias amount to more than $148 billion annually in the United States alone. The financial cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease can be overwhelming and is estimated to be about $50,000 per year in direct medical expenses.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, although researchers have made progress on determining the causes of Alzheimer's.
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