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Alzheimer's disease (alzheimer's)
Photo: Alzheimer's disease A progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several areas of the brain leading to loss of cognitive function such as memory and language. The cause of nerve cell death is unknown.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is a form of presenile dementia of unknown origin that is similar to senile dementia except that it usually starts in the 40s or 50s. It has characteristic pathologic changes in the brain; first symptoms are impaired memory which is followed by impaired thought and speech, through to complete helplessness, and eventually leads to death.

Its onset is slow and at an earlier age than the common dementia. After onset, it progresses steadily and the pathology is more severe than the average form of senile dementia. Most studies report that this disease is responsible for the cognitive decline in about 50% of demented older adults.

Early symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be 'age-related' concerns, or manifestations of stress. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. Subtle problems with the executive functions of attentiveness, planning, flexibility, and abstract thinking, or impairments in semantic memory (memory of meanings, and concept relationships) can also be symptomatic of the early stages of AD.

Older memories of the person's life (episodic memory), facts learned (semantic memory), and implicit memory (the memory of the body on how to do things, such as using a fork to eat) are affected to a lesser degree than new facts or memories.

When AD is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with tests that evaluate behaviour and thinking abilities, often followed by a brain scan if available.

The cause and progression of Alzheimer's disease are not well understood. Research indicates that the disease is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain. Mental stimulation, exercise, and a balanced diet have been suggested as ways to delay cognitive symptoms (though not brain pathology) in healthy older individuals.

The components of a Mediterranean diet, which include fruit and vegetables, bread, wheat and other cereals, olive oil, fish, and red wine, may all individually or together reduce the risk and course of Alzheimer's disease. The diet's beneficial cardiovascular effect has been proposed as the mechanism of action. There is limited evidence that light to moderate use of alcohol, particularly red wine, is associated with lower risk of AD.

The role of the main caregiver is often taken by a spouse or a close relative. Alzheimer's disease is known for placing a great burden on caregivers; the pressures can be wide-ranging, involving social, psychological, physical, and economic elements of the caregiver's life.

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