Alzheimer Disease

Alzheimers Disease is a type of dementia, is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that affects about 5.7 million Americans, including 1 in 10 adults aged 65 and older. It is the sixth leading cause of death among all adults and the fifth leading cause for those aged 65 or older. In 2020, the estimated cost of caring for and treating people with Alzheimer’s disease was $305 billion. By 2050, these costs are projected to be more than $1.1 trillion.


Dementia is a term that is used to cover a variety of symptoms associated with declining mental ability. It is a medical condition of the brain and not specifically a psychological or mental illness, although there can be behavioral and psychological symptoms associated with dementia. Dementia symptoms are often overlooked because they are simply thought to be signs of normal aging in older adults. However, dementia is not a natural part of aging and its symptoms include:

  • Forgetfulness

  • Memory loss

  • Reduced reasoning

  • Trouble paying attention

  • Impaired judgment and problem solving

  • Visual perception issues that aren’t related to normal age-related changes

  • Changes in personality and behavior

  • Any other changes that interfere with a person’s normal daily functions

In the United States, around 5 million individuals over the age of 65 are estimated to have dementia. As mentioned earlier, dementia is a term used to cover symptoms of mental decline, but there are actually many different types of dementia. Now, let’s discuss how Alzheimer’s compares to dementia.


While dementia is a medical condition involving the decline of mental ability, Alzheimer’s disease is a specific medical disease within it. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia—making up between 60-80% of all dementia cases

Specifically, Alzheimer’s disease damages brain cells and causes complex brain change. While Alzheimer’s shares many of the same symptoms as dementia, one of the earliest symptoms associated with it is difficulty retaining and remembering new information. This is due to the belief that Alzheimer’s first affects the area of the brain related to learning. 

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that usually worsens over time. Because of this, there is an Alzheimer’s disease continuum with 3 main phases and the  symptoms associated with each phase:

  • Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease

    • No symptoms

  • Mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease

    • Mild symptoms that do not interfere with everyday activities

  • Dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease

    • Mild – Symptoms interfere with some everyday activities

    • Moderate – Symptoms interfere with many everyday activities

    • Severe – Symptoms interfere with most everyday activities

Now that we’ve covered what dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are, let’s look at how they differ from memory issues due to normal aging.


While normal aging can affect cognitive and memory performance, dementia—and therefore Alzheimer’s—is not a part of the normal aging process. Compared to the symptoms listed above for dementia and Alzheimer’s, here are examples of normal memory loss for older adults:

  • Misplacing car keys every now and then

  • Forgetting very recent events

  • Having trouble finding a word, but then remembering it later

  • Forgetting the name of an acquaintance

These instances are expected as older adults age. However, it’s important to monitor your parent or loved one to see if these issues continue, increase in frequency, or worsen. If they do, you should seek help from a medical professional to determine if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.


If you notice your parent or loved one displaying some of the symptoms associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s, it may be time to visit a doctor to get a diagnosis. You can begin by visiting a primary care doctor to do some initial tests and examinations, but neurologists, geriatric psychiatrists, geriatricians, and neuropsychologists can also diagnose dementia.

Since Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, the testing methods are the same and involve:

  • A physical exam to check the vitals of the body and determine if there is an underlying cause

  • Laboratory tests to check blood and other fluid levels to rule out potential causes of symptoms

  • A review of the individual’s personal and family medical history to check when the symptoms began, any other changes that occurred, if there was any medication being taken, and if dementia runs in the family

  • Cognitive and neurological tests to evaluate thinking and physical functioning

  • Brain scans that can identify changes in the brain’s structure and function. They can also determine if a tumor, stroke, or another issue might be causing dementia. These brain scans include:

    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which produces detailed images of the body, including the brain

    • Computed tomography (CT), which produces images of the brain and other organs

    • Positron emission tomography (PET), which provides pictures of brain activity

  • A psychiatric evaluation to determine if there is a separate mental health condition—like depression—that could be contributing to the individual’s symptoms

  • Genetic tests to see if the individual is at increased risk of developing dementia

  • Additional blood tests to measure levels of beta-amyloid—a protein that accumulates abnormally in people with Alzheimer’s


As mentioned in the diagnosis section, doctors will test to see if there are any underlying health issues or other factors that could increase your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some things that increase the risk of dementia:

  • Family history – Individuals with a family history of dementia are more likely to develop it themselves

  • Age – Age is the strongest risk factor for developing dementia. Most individuals diagnosed with dementia are over 65

  • Poor heart health – High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking all can increase the risk of developing dementia if they are not treated

  • Race/ethnicity – Older African American adults are twice as likely to develop dementia as white individuals. Older Hispanic adults are 1.5 times as likely to develop dementia as white individuals

  • Traumatic brain injury – Suffering severe brain injuries can increase the risk of developing dementia, especially if they occur repeatedly

Currently, there is little data to determine the risk of developing dementia after contracting COVID-19. However, studies have found that individuals with dementia are more likely to contract COVID-19, require hospitalization, and have severe or fatal cases than individuals without dementia.

Other factors like stress and depression—even more common now for older adults during the pandemic—can impact cognitive impairment and dementia symptoms and even worsen them, but they do not necessarily cause dementia. That means moving or partaking in other activities that are normally stressful could increase the risk of worsening symptoms.


At this point, there are no known cures for Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia. However, there are certain therapies, medications, and treatments that can help patients. These treatments can help dementia patients to manage their symptoms, like anxiety or behavioral changes. The specific medication or treatment depends on the severity of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and will be determined by a healthcare provider.


If your parent or loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, one of the next things you have to determine is their living options. You may be wondering if they can live independently, in assisted living, or in memory care. You’ll have to talk to their doctor to determine the necessary level of care, but the best option for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s is generally living in a memory care facility. Memory care is the highest level of care offered by senior living communities and involves:

  • A secure facility

  • 24-hour care

  • Specialized staff

  • Specialized programming

  • Housekeeping

  • Meals

However, depending on how advanced the dementia is, they may still be able to live in assisted living or with a family member where they can be supervised and taken care of. Dementia can progress quickly, so it’s important to keep your parent or loved one in the safest situation possible.

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