We all forget things once in a while. Maybe you've forgotten to send a card for
someone's birthday or to return an overdue library book.
Forgetting stuff is a part of life and it often becomes more common as people age.
What Is Alzheimer Disease?
Alzheimer (say: ALTS-hy-mer, ALS-hy-mer, or OLS-hy-mer) disease,
which affects some older people, is different from everyday forgetting. It is a condition
that permanently affects the brain. Over time, the disease makes it harder to remember
even basic stuff, like how to tie a shoe.
Eventually, the person may have trouble remembering the names and faces of family
members — or even who he or she is. This can be very sad for the person and
his or her family.
It's important to know that Alzheimer disease does not affect kids. It usually
affects people over 65 years of age. Researchers have found medicines that seem to
slow the disease down. And there's hope that someday there will be a cure.
What Happens in Alzheimer Disease?
You probably know that your brain
works by sending signals. Chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters (say: nur-oh-TRANS-mih-terz),
allow brain cells to talk to each other. But a person with Alzheimer disease has lower
amounts of neurotransmitters.
People with Alzheimer disease also develop deposits of stuff (protein and fiber)
that prevent the cells from working properly. When this happens, the cells can't send
the right signals to other parts of the brain. Over time, brain cells affected by
Alzheimer disease also begin to shrink and die.
What Causes Alzheimer Disease?
Lots of research is being done to find out more about the causes of Alzheimer disease.
There is no one reason why people get it. Older people are more likely to get it,
and the risk increases the older the person gets. In other words, an 85-year-old is
more likely to get it than a 65-year-old. And women are more likely to get it
Researchers also think genes
handed down from family members can make a person more likely to get Alzheimer disease.
But that doesn't mean everyone related to someone who has it will get the disease.
Other things may make it more likely that someone will get the disease, such as high
blood pressure, high cholesterol, Down syndrome, or having a head injury.
On the positive side, researchers believe exercise, a healthy diet, and taking
steps to keep your mind active (like doing crossword puzzles) may help delay the start
of Alzheimer disease.
How Do People Know They Have It?
The first sign of Alzheimer disease is an ongoing pattern of forgetting things.
This starts to affect a person's daily life. He or she may forget where the grocery
store is or the names of family and friends. This stage may last for some time or
get worse quickly, causing more severe memory loss and forgetfulness.
What Will the Doctor Do?
It can be hard for a doctor to diagnose Alzheimer disease because many of its symptoms
(like memory problems) can be like those of other conditions affecting the brain.
The doctor will talk to the patient, find out about any medical problems the person
has, and will examine him or her.
The doctor can ask the person questions or have the person take a written test
to see how well his or her memory is working. Doctors also can use medical tests (such
as MRI or CT scans) to take
a detailed picture of the brain. They can study these images and look for signs of
When a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, the doctor may prescribe medicine
to help with memory and thinking. The doctor also might give the person medicine for
other problems, such as depression (sad feelings that last a long time). Unfortunately,
the medicines that the doctors have can't cure Alzheimer disease; they just help slow
When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer Disease
You might feel sad or angry — or both — if someone you love has Alzheimer
disease. You might feel nervous around the person, especially if he or she is having
trouble remembering important things or can no longer take care of himself or herself.
You might not want to go visit the person, even though your mom or dad wants you
to. You are definitely not alone in these feelings. Try talking with a parent or another
trusted adult. Just saying what's on your mind might help you feel better. You also
may learn that the adults in your life are having struggles of their own with the
If you visit a loved one who has Alzheimer disease, try to be patient. He or she
may have good days and bad days. It can be sad if you can't have fun in the same ways
together. Maybe you and your grandmother liked to go to concerts. If that's no longer
possible, maybe bring her some wonderful music and listen together. It's a way to
show her that you care — and showing that love is important, even if her memory