Alzheimer disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects areas of the brain involved in memory, intelligence, judgment, language, and behavior. According to statistics provided by the Alzheimer Association, it is estimated that 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer disease. The risk for developing Alzheimer disease increases with age and about one in 8 people over the age of 65 is affected by Alzheimer disease. It is the most common form of mental decline or dementia in older adults.
Alzheimer disease may present with a variety of symptoms, however the most common symptom is memory loss. People closest to the individual affected by Alzheimer disease may notice subtle changes that may not be apparent to others or to the individual himself. The following is a list of typical symptoms experienced in Alzheimer disease:
- Memory loss that interferes with day-to-day function
- Difficulty with planning or problem solving
- Changes in personality or mood
- Disorientation or confusion with time and space
- Difficulty coming up with words or speaking
- Decreased ability to make decisions or poor judgment
- Social withdrawal
The area of the brain responsible for forming new memories is usually the first to be affected. A number of studies indicate an accumulation of protein deposits called beta-amyloid in the brain of individuals with Alzheimer disease. Formation of another protein called tau results in tangles inside the dying brain cell. These protein deposits interfere with the normal function of the brain eventually causing the symptoms recognized as Alzheimer disease. It appears that amyloid may be present in the brain many years before any signs or symptoms of dementia.
Making the diagnosis of Alzheimer disease can be difficult requiring multiple tests to exclude other possible diagnoses. Being able to recognize Alzheimer disease early in the process is becoming increasingly important as medications to slow the progression of the disease are made available.
Autopsy remains the only conclusive way to determine whether beta-amyloid is present in the brain. At IND advanced brain imaging techniques are being developed and evaluated to identify beta-amyloid in the brain. IND also conducts clinical trials involving medications aimed at decreasing the progression of Alzheimer disease. These medications have the potential to reduce the amount of beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. If these medications are administered early in the disease there is the highest potential of restoring brain function and reducing disease progression.
Development of brain imaging techniques for early and accurate diagnosis combined with the use of medications to reduce disease progression hold promise for improving the prognosis for Alzheimer disease. Click here to watch a WTNH news video about IND research on Alzheimer disease.