Common Questions About Alzheimer’s Disease

Common Questions About Alzheimer’s Disease

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, “memory lane” becomes a surreal maze where faces, names and eventually language may become a blur. Whether you’re caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or are worried that you may develop it, understanding Alzheimer’s disease is a smart move. Here are some of the top questions about Alzheimer’s disease—and the answers you need to understand this illness.


  1. What is Alzheimer's disease?

    Affecting 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that destroys memory and other cognitive functions. The disease is “progressive,” meaning that it may start out with mild moments of confusion, but may eventually worsen to the point of not knowing the names of your intimate family members and losing the ability to speak and perform other basic functions.

  2. Is Alzheimer’s disease different from dementia?

    Dementia describes the symptoms of memory loss and confusion. People with Alzheimer’s disease may have dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease. There are other risk factors, including age, that cause memory loss. Being described as “senile” usually refers to dementia—but it does not necessarily mean Alzheimer’s.


  4. How is the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient different from a healthy brain?

    Amyloid beta and tau proteins have been found to accumulate in clumps or tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This buildup disrupts normal brain cell communications and damages key areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and spatial navigation, such as the hippocampus. The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease have inflammation and oxidative damage.

  5. Can you tell whether you are at an increased risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease?

    Age and family history are the biggest risk factors, but head injury, vascular conditions and even nutritional deficiency may all play a role. You can take a simple cheek swab test for genetic markers of Alzheimer's diesease.


  7. Is Alzheimer’s disease associated with any other medical problems?

    Since it affects seniors who may have other preexisting or age-related conditions, it’s common for Alzheimer’s patients to have other illnesses. However, there may be more of a direct link between high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease: those clumps of amyloid beta proteins that are found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s also are found in patients with high blood pressure. In one study, participants taking a hypertension drug had cerebral improvements—such as increased blood flow within the hippocampus.

  8. Is there a cure for Alzheimer's?

    No, there is not a cure at this time. However, some recent studies show promise for helping to prevent the disease from getting worse.

    Lithium, the drug famously once prescribed for manic depression, may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s because it staves off an enzyme that creates those tau protein tangles found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. In a 15-month study, Alzheimer’s patients taking lithium experienced no decline in cognitive performance versus untreated patients, whose cognitive symptoms got worse.


  10. Is there anything I can do to prevent developing Alzheimer’s disease?

  11. Live your healthiest life. That starts with a regular exercise routine; in another study, Alzheimer’s patients who exercised had reduced brain atrophy compared with those who did not.

    What you eat is also important. The Mediterranean diet may reduce Alzheimer’s risk; it’s also been shown to benefit Parkinson’s patients and those with more mild cognitive impairment. So, choose ample fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and legumes and stay away from high-fat, processed foods.

    top view wood table with variety of foods



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