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Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms and Risk

MagazineAugust 2007 (Vol. 18 Issue 5)Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms and Risk

Inits early stages, Alzheimer's disease (AD) can be difficult todistinguish from the usual memory loss, the 'mild cognitive impairment'that often arises in old age and causes those classic 'senior moments'

In its early stages, Alzheimer's disease (AD) can be difficult to distinguish from the usual memory loss, the 'mild cognitive impairment' that often arises in old age and causes those classic 'senior moments'.

Other conditions that can be confused with AD are a thyroid imbalance, vitamin-B deficiency, brain injury or tumour, severe depression and drug side-effects.

Major warning signs of Alzheimer's disease

  • Memory loss severe enough to affect job or life skills
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Language problems
  • Disorientation (of time and place)
  • Poor or decreased judgement
  • Problems with abstract thinking (such as following directions)
  • Misplacing things
  • Changes in mood or behaviour
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of initiative
  • Repeating questions
  • Getting lost in familiar places.
There is no set pattern to AD. It usually comes on gradually, unlike vascular dementia, which generally has a step-wise worsening (after each 'mini-stroke') and may involve mild paralysis or slurred speech.
AD is ultimately fatal, with death occurring an average of eight years after diagnosis. However, this figure can range from three to as many as 20 years.
But contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer's is by no means inevitable.

Who are most at risk?

  • Women
  • People with:
    • ower levels of education
    • a significant family history of AD
    • a history of head injury
    • a BMI (body mass index) of under 20 or over 22.5
  • Anyone over 65.
By age 65, roughly one in 14 people will have developed Alzheimer's; the risk doubles every five years from then onwards, tailing off at around age 85 (but only in men).

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