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Alzheimer's is...

The most common form of dementia causes problems with memory, behavior, and thinking that worsen over time, eventually leading to death. There is no cure. Over 5 million people in the United States have the disease. Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging.

Alzheimer's Stages and Changes

A person with Alzheimer's will change over time, and understanding these changes can help you plan ahead. People with early stage Alzheimer's can usually take part in care decisions. Experts suggest talking about worries, concerns, and frustrations with family and friends instead of trying to figure everything out on your own. Work together to find ways to maintain independence. Take time to make financial, legal, and health care plans at this stage, before the disease progresses.

As the disease progresses, memory loss and changes in behavior and mood become more severe to the point where constant attention is necessary. At the same time, people with Alzheimer's may still enjoy normal activities.

Late stage Alzheimer's requires around-the-clock care and may require a move to a residential care facility. This stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to years.

How does Alzheimer's affect the brain?

In Alzheimer's, brain cells called neurons gradually stop working, lose connections with other neurons, and eventually die. Abnormal amounts of proteins also form plaques and tangles – major hallmarks of the disease – but we do not yet know why this happens. Over time, the brain shrinks and a person with Alzheimer's can no longer remember, think, or take part in daily activities without help.

The National Institutes of Health offers detailed information on the disease. The site includes a useful short video animation about how Alzheimer's affects the brain.