Memory loss and dementia associated with aging can occur for many reasons; one of the causes is Alzheimer’s disease.
It is not uncommon for people to lose some of their memory or other thinking skills as they age. But when loss of memory or mental function becomes severe enough to interfere with activities of daily life, it is known as dementia. Dementia is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain, which are called neurons. As a result of the damage, neurons can no longer function normally and may die. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a type of dementia. In Alzheimer’s disease, the damage to and death of neurons eventually impair one’s ability to carry out basic bodily functions such as walking and swallowing.1
An estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages will have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, of which 5 million are aged 65 and older.2 In fact, one in nine people age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is caused by the buildup of proteins in the brain, which damages and kills neurons (brain cells). This leads to a decrease in the ability for messages to get across the brain leading to memory loss and reduced mental ability.* While research is ongoing, there is still no cure for this disease today. While medication and lifestyle management can slow its progression, AD is still the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.3
While the direct causes of symptoms are known, the reasons why people develop AD still remain unclear. Additionally, the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s may begin 20 or more years before the symptoms appear.4 It is likely that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be responsible. For this reason, many doctors and patients are hopeful that changes in lifestyle and diet can lead to a decrease in the risk factors associated with AD and its progression.5
*Listed symptoms are not all-inclusive; actual patient symptoms may vary.
1Alzheimer’s Association, 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Volume 10, Issue 2.
2Hebert LE, Weuve J, Scherr PA, Evans DA. Alzheimer disease in the United States (2010-2050) estimated using the 2010 Census. Neurology 2013;80(19):1778–83.
3National Vital Statistics Report (NVSR) “Deaths: Final Data for 2012.” National Vital Statistics Reports. National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_09.pdf
4Jack CR, Lowe VJ, Weigand SD, Wiste HJ, Senjem ML, Knopman DS, et al. Serial PIB and MRI in normal, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: Implications for sequence of pathological events in Alzheimer’s disease. Brain 2009;132:1355–65.
5Gillette-Guyonnet,S.,Secher,M.,andVellas, B.(2013).Nutrition and neurodegen- eration: epidemiological evidence and challenges for future research. Br.J.Clin. Pharmacol. 75, 738–755.