Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, a condition in which normal brain function is lost. In most cases Alzheimer's disease has a gradual onset. At first there may be little more than the forgetfulness that most of us experience from time to time. As the disease progresses there may be a very obvious loss of memory for recent events, inability to perform familiar tasks or learn new ones, and confusion about the time and date. Some sufferers believe they are living in the past. Personality changes are common, with previously mild-mannered people often becoming quite aggressive.
In the more advanced stages of Alzheimer's there is a loss of the ability to recognise close relatives and perform simple tasks such as washing, eating and getting dressed.
Many people worry that their elderly relatives have, or will develop, Alzheimer's. In the early stages it is not always possible to be sure. There are no tests that can give definite confirmation that it is present.
But a number of other conditions, many of them treatable, can produce symptoms that might make one suspect Alzheimer's. These conditions include hormone disorders, nutritional deficiency, strokes, depression and head injuries. For this reason, it is very important that any one whose memory or other brain functions seem to be deteriorating has a thorough medical assessment.
It is worth remembering that 85 per cent of people over the age of 65 have no form of dementia.
Last Reviewed: 24 May 2002